Bob Baffert, Medina Spirit suspended from Belmont Stakes: 'In the best interests' of horse racing

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The New York Racing Association announced on Monday that it's suspending trainer Bob Baffert from entering or stalling any horses at its tracks.

That means Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit won't be allowed to run at the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown. The NYRA announced its decision as Derby host Churchill Downs awaits the results of a second drug test after Medina Spirit tested positive for banned steroid betamethasone.

Baffert ban 'in the best interests of thoroughbred racing'

NYRA CEO David O’Rourke announced Monday's decision in a statement:

“In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants,” O’Rourke said. “That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”

Baffert initially denied that he used betamethasone improperly on Medina Spirit, blaming "cancel culture" and floating a theory that the horse ate hay tainted by human urine instead. Baffert admitted days later that he treated Medina Spirit with an ointment containing betamethasone daily leading up to the Kentucky Derby. 

The use of betamathasone, which is considered a performance enhancer, is prohibited in the 14 days leading up to a race. If Medina Spirit's second sample called a split sample confirms the positive test, Churchill Downs will revoke the horse's Kentucky Derby victory and declare second-place horse Mandaloun the winner instead. The result of that test could still be several weeks away. 

Trainer Bob Baffert is seen in the Churchill Downs paddock Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. Baffert will be saddling 3 runners in the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 4. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Bob Baffert and his horses are banned from several lucrative NY races, including the third leg of the Triple Crown. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Baffert's history of winning, violations

Baffert has trained seven Kentucky Derby-winning horses including Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify. He also has a lengthy history of medical violations, with 29 reported failed drug tests on his training resume. The NYRA cited that history in its decision to suspend Baffert. 

"In addition to the ongoing investigation into Medina Spirit’s victory in the Kentucky Derby, NYRA has taken into account the fact that other horses trained by Mr. Baffert have failed drug tests in the recent past, resulting in the assessment of penalties against him by thoroughbred racing regulators in Kentucky, California, and Arkansas," the statement reads.

Baffert's suspension is temporary as the NYRA awaits the results of Medina Spirit's split sample test.

"NYRA expects to make a final determination regarding the length and terms of Mr. Baffert’s suspension based on information revealed during the course of the ongoing investigation in Kentucky, such as the post-Kentucky Derby test results of Medina Spirit," the statement continued.

Belmont ban just part of costly suspension

Medina Spirit entered Saturday's Preakness Stakes as the favorite following multiple negative drug tests leading up to the race. The horse finished in third place behind winner Rombauer. Another of Baffert's horses, Concert Tour, also competed at the Preakness after passing rigorous pre-race testing. 

Neither will be allowed to compete at Belmont Park or the NYRA's other tracks Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack. Neither will any of Baffert's other horses. While the most prominent, the Belmont Stakes is one of several high-stakes races at NYRA tracks that Baffert and the horses he trains are banned from. 

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