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OPINION | WALLY HALL: New York adds another blemish for Baffert

by Wally Hall | May 19, 2021 at 2:01 a.m.

It may not be the crowning blow, but it's significant.

The New York Racing Association temporarily banned Bob Baffert from racing at its three big tracks -- Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct.

Pending a legal fight, he cannot enter a horse in the Belmont Stakes two weeks from this Saturday.

More importantly, officials said their decision was not based solely on Baffert's for-now Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit's failed post-race drug test. They said it was a combination of two failed drug tests in Arkansas, one in Kentucky and another in California.

Last year, Baffert had two horses test positive after winning races at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, and he was handed a 15-day suspension. He appealed, and in April he and his attorneys met with the Arkansas Racing Commission in a meeting room in Oaklawn's new hotel.

Some time after lunch on the second day -- Baffert ate with his attorney -- the Racing Commission reinstated the horses as winners, saying the amount of drug in the horses was not enough to affect the outcome.

Some are questioning whether that was just another slap on the wrist of the most powerful trainer in the world. The commission did find Baffert (who was not present for the races) guilty enough to fine him $5,000 for each failed drug test.

Yes, that is chump change for a guy worth a reported $35 million and who earned more than $75,000 with the reinstatement of his horses' victories.

However, the fines were real. They appear to be the largest Baffert has ever had, and NYRA can point at those and say he was guilty.

Medina Spirit was found to have 21 picograms of betamethasone in his system. A picogram is one trillionth of a gram, and it takes 28.3495 grams to make up an ounce. So for a horse weighing about 1,000 pounds, 21 picograms wouldn't make a difference.

It appears what this is about is Baffert's stable not following the rules on too regular of a basis.

On the NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday back in March, CBS' Seth Davis created quite a stir in Arkansas when he picked Colgate to upset the Hogs.

Davis even got a text from Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman.

All the radio shows on 103.7-FM, The Buzz, were filled with calls from upset Razorback fans.

It wasn't personal. It was Davis taking a shot.

Everyone who fills out a tournament bracket takes a shot by picking a few Cinderellas.

Davis went on The Buzz to explain that.

For the sake of transparency, I have never met Davis. We once did a mock NCAA Tournament selection together, but he was on the other side of the room and at the time worked for Sports Illustrated.

Now in addition to his CBS work, he is a managing editor for The Athletic, an internet sports journalism website. His latest story is on Musselman and his ability to take transfers and win with them.

For Razorback fans, there is nothing new in the story. Our man Bob Holt has had all the same information spread out over months instead of one long story.

It has a little bit of a different perspective, but mostly it is a tale of how Musselman always has worked under pressure since his days coaching in the CBA and G League, when you can lose a star player over night.

It does not come across as a make-up story for picking against the Razorbacks, but an honest evaluation of how Musselman and his staff always have a list of dozens of athletes who might fit their style and system.

Davis is a gifted writer and analyst, but he had a ton of misses in his bracket. None was bigger than Arkansas, who made it to the Elite Eight before losing to eventual national champion Baylor.


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