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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Kentucky Derby will go on without Baffert

by Wally Hall | May 4, 2022 at 3:20 a.m.

It is the biggest day in thoroughbred racing in the world and Bob Baffert won't be there.

He'll have two horses running, though, just under one of his former assistant's name.

The trainer who dominates the sport has been banned for two years from racing at Churchill Downs.

Even though he was warned not to do it by D. Wayne Lukas, he appealed and appealed and appealed.

Five times he has been turned down.

"I told him, 'Any other state, like Arkansas,' " Lukas told the Louisville Courier- Journal. "But here, with the grandest of all [races] in the state of Kentucky, with the whole world watching, I thought he'd have a hell of a time overturning any of those judges.'

Baffert has been in trouble for using medications that were banned for horses on racing day at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs. It was one of a handful of times he got caught. Actually he had two horses on meds at Oaklawn on a Derby Day.

He was suspended, reinstated and fined $5,000.

Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby and tested positive for the steroid betamethasone. He and Baffert were disqualified, most likely because it was the fifth time in a year Baffert had horses test positive for banned drugs.

In his career, which spans four decades, Baffert has been caught using banned drugs more than 30 times.

Medina Spirit died in December.

So the face of thoroughbred racing won't be at Churchill Downs this Saturday.

It's not like he could don a pair of sunglasses as a disguise. He wears those all the time. He once said he did because he was allergic to horses.

Highly unlikely.

The 69-year-old Baffert has won more than 3,000 races, more than $321 million in purses.

He is tied with Ben Jones for the most wins in the Kentucky Derby with six, a tie that will remain for a while.

No doubt he has a soft spot for Louisville and Churchill.

He won his first Derby in 1997 just six years after switching from training quarterhorses to thoroughbreds.

He met his current wife at the Derby when she worked for a local TV station.

Baffert is like New England head football coach Bill Belichick, he's not going to win a lot of popularity contests.

Some owners have called him arrogant, and one said he needed to learn when to hit the mute button.

Having only been around him in news conference settings or observing him sitting on his car after morning training and getting some sun with his future wife, it would be hard to say he's anything but aloof and distant, unless you are a multimillionaire owner.

He controls the jockey colony at Santa Anita because he has the best horses and he spreads those around among the best riders.

Most likely he trained Doppelganger in the Arkansas Derby, but the official trainer was listed as Tim Yakteen. But despite all the money Baffert has won at Oaklawn, the only recent memory of him actually being at the track was when the Arkansas Racing Commission fined him that $5,000.

Yakteen has two entries in Saturday's Run for the Roses, and it seems common knowledge both are really trained by Baffert. There's nothing Churchill can do about that.

The horses are 8-1 Messier and 12-1 Taiba. Messier will be ridden by John Velazquez and Taiba by Mike Smith. Both are regular riders at Santa Anita and often get Baffert mounts.

Baffert will miss being there, but the Derby won't miss him.

It is too big of an event to ever be about one man or even one horse.

Baffert tried every appeal available and is still sidelined for the biggest day in racing and he has one person to blame, himself.


Print Headline: Kentucky Derby will go on without Baffert

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