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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Day about Baffert as Medina Spirit fades

by Wally Hall | May 16, 2021 at 8:37 a.m.

It wasn't supposed to be about Bob Baffert, but there was no way the 146th Preakness couldn't be about the trainer who was suspended by Churchill Downs after Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby and then tested positive for a steroid.

The headline was 11-1 shot Rombauer put away all challengers in the stretch to win the race, but the story line took another twist when the drug-free Medina Spirit faded at the end.

Rombauer was unhurried for most of the race, not far behind pace-setters Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon. As Midnight Bourbon put his head in front in the stretch, jockey Flavien Prat asked Rombauer to run.

And run he did, going past the bigger names to win the Preakness going away. Medina Spirit faded to a distant third.

It was Rombauer's third win in seven races.

It was a glorious day for trainer Michael McCarthy and owners John and Diane Fradkin, who paid $40,000 for Rombauer.

But the day, month and year revolve around Baffert. The immaculate perception of racing has kicked mud on himself.

It was no surprise Medina Spirit was the favorite. He won the Kentucky Derby, which was a much better field than he faced Saturday.

Yet, the cloud hanging over Baffert grew darker with each length Medina Spirit fell behind.

Hours before the Preakness, it was reported bettors in Louisville were suing Baffert and demanding he be banned forever.

The $1.8 million Derby winner's purse can be redistributed to second-place finisher Mandaloun, but those who bet him to win don't collect a nickel.

It also was reported at least one thoroughbred farm had taken some horses away from Baffert.

The second test on Medina Spirit is more than likely going to come back positive, or at least everyone is acting like that will be the case.

In the last year, Baffert has had at least four horses test positive for banned substances. And his 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify tested positive after the Santa Anita Derby.

That was kept under wraps for several weeks, but maybe that's one of the problems with Baffert and thoroughbred racing -- he became too powerful.

He's entrenched as the trainer of the rich and famous, and he's a man who spends enough time in the winner's circle that he should consider building a condo there.

Perhaps he's been thrust upon a pedestal so high he's lost sight of his roots, which started on hard-scrabble quarter-horse tracks.

It is hard to believe he's an innocent bystander in these tests, and he's been quick to throw his top assistant and a veterinarian under the bus.

The New York Times reported that in his four decades of training thoroughbreds, he's had 29 failed tests.

Rick Dutrow trained Big Brown to wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2008, but in 2011 he was suspended for 10 years for what was termed too many drug tests failed.

Dutrow trained primarily in New York and never had a horse put down or seriously injured.

Not saying Baffert deserves that severe of a suspension -- or that Dutrow did, either -- but Baffert is not above the rules. It is going to be interesting to see what Churchill Downs decides when that second test comes back positive.

It appears Baffert will not get the customary slap on the wrist.

He stayed away from the Preakness, claiming he didn't want to be a disruption, but in the end it didn't matter whether he was there or not.

This Preakness, like thoroughbred racing, is all about Bob Baffert.

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