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Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby win invalidated

FILE - John Velazquez rides Medina Spirit across the finish line to win the 147th running of...
FILE - John Velazquez rides Medina Spirit across the finish line to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., May 1, 2021.(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 1:34 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 21, 2022 at 6:54 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE/Gray News) - The Garland of Roses has officially fallen off the late Medina Spirit.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission disqualified the horse as the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby on Monday, following months of controversy sparked by a post-Derby drug test and Churchill Downs, Inc.’s suspension of trainer Bob Baffert.

Baffert has been barred from racing in Kentucky for 90 days, starting March 8, and was fined $7,500. Additionally, all purse money won with Medina Spirit must be forfeited.

Mandaloun will be declared the official winner of Kentucky Derby 147 if the KHRC ruling is upheld, giving trainer Brad Cox his first Derby victory.

Medina Spirit, a 3-year-old Prontico colt, won Baffert his record seventh Kentucky Derby on May 1, 2021. Eight days later, the trainer announced that the horse had tested positive in a post-Derby drug test for betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory that is prohibited in Kentucky on race day. Baffert was then barred from racing horses at Churchill Downs and other Churchill Downs, Inc. tracks for two years beginning in June 2021.

Baffert claimed Medina Spirit was given betamethasone as an ointment for a skin rash after his veterinarian recommended it; according to his lawyers, using the drug as an ointment does not violate KHRC rules; however, injecting betamethasone is prohibited. Betamethasone through an injection is not allowed on race day because the anti-inflammatory would potentially mask an injury before a race, the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) said.

The KHRC regulations state: “KRS 230.240(2) requires the commission to promulgate administrative regulations restricting or prohibiting the administration of drugs or stimulants or other improper acts to horses prior to the horse participating in a race. ... The following have a fourteen (14) day stand down period for intra-articular injection. Any IA corticosteroid injection within fourteen (14) days is a violation: (i) Betamethasone, via IA administration at 9 mg total dose in a single articular space.”

In response to the disqualification ruling, Baffert’s attorney Craig Robertson said he is “disappointed” and plans to file an appeal.

“It runs contrary to the scientifically proven facts in this case and the rules of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission,” Robertson said in a statement. “We will be filing an immediate appeal.”

Lincoln Zweig, another Baffert attorney, issued a lengthy statement arguing that the reasons for Medina Spirit’s disqualification are an “egregious departure from both the facts and the law.” The statement reads:

“We are disappointed by the Commission’s ruling, but not surprised. This ruling represents an egregious departure from both the facts and the law, but the numerous public statements by KHRC officials over the last several months have made perfectly clear that Bob Baffert’s fate was decided before we ever sat down for a hearing before the three stewards, one of whom is directly employed by Churchill Downs as the racing director at Turfway Park. We will appeal, and we will prevail when the facts and rules are presented to detached, neutral decisionmakers.

  • The Kentucky Rules of Racing, KHRC Rule 8:020-2, regulates only “betamethasone acetate” “via IA [intra-articular joint] administration” and prohibits its use only if that injection occurred within 14 days of the race.
  • The Kentucky Rules of Racing, Rule 8:010, Section 4, expressly permits trainers to administer ointments containing betamethasone under a rule captioned “Certain Permitted Substances,” which states that “ointments . . . and other products commonly used in the daily care of horses may be administered by a person, other than a licensed veterinarian if”: (1) The treatment does not include any drug, medication, or substance otherwise prohibited by this administrative regulation; (2) The treatment is not injected; and (3) The person is acting under the direction of a licensed trainer or veterinarian licensed to practice veterinary medicine in Kentucky and licensed by the commission.

The outcome should have been clear. Betamethasone valerate is a permitted substance that can be administered to a horse. It was not injected. And it was administered at the direction of a veterinarian, who contemporaneously reported that treatment to a national database accessible to the KHRC prior to the Kentucky Derby. There was no rule violation.

The unrefuted and undisputed facts established at the hearing were: (1) Medina Spirit was treated with an ointment, not an injection; (2) the trace amount of betamethasone detected could not have affected the horse in any way; and (3) the trace amount of betamethasone detected could not possibly have affected the outcome of the race.

In other words, Medina Spirit would have won with or without the ointment because it was irrelevant in every way. The stewards’ decision to rob Medina Spirit of a victory he earned was not in accordance with the law but instead represents biased, purposeful, and wrongful action.

Unless regulators draft and apply Rules of Racing that reflect the practical realities of caring for horses and the irrelevance of trace levels of permitted therapeutic medications, this sport will continue to suffer. Until then, Bob will continue doing the one thing that sets him apart from the KHRC, Churchill Downs, and NYRA: fighting for an honest, fair and transparent application of the rules for all the incredibly hardworking horsemen and horsewomen dedicated to our sport.”

In December, Medina Spirit died on the main track at Santa Anita Park in California shortly after a workout. A necropsy revealed no definitive cause, according to the California Horse Racing Commission, though Baffert had initially said the horse died of a heart attack. Medina Spirit was found to have swollen lungs, foam in his windpipe, an enlarged spleen, congestion, and hemorrhages in his tissues, all typical of a horse that has suddenly died.

The colt was owned by Amr Zedan of Zedan Racing Stables.

Without directly addressing Medina Spirit or Baffert, Churchill Downs, Inc. issued a statement on Monday’s disqualification and congratulated Cox, as well as Mandaloun’s owner and the jockey who rode him in the Derby.

“Today Churchill Downs recognizes Mandaloun as the winner of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby and extends our congratulations to owner/breeder Juddmonte, trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux,” the statement says. “Winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting achievements in sports and we look forward to celebrating Mandaloun on a future date in a way that is fitting of this rare distinction.”

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