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Bob Baffert Can Race Horses In New York–At Least For Now

James Murphy
by in Horses on
  • Bob Baffert has received a stay of the New York Racing Association’s (NYRA) ban from racing horses in the state.
  • The suspension was issued on May 17 in the aftermath of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s positive post race drug test.
  • The race meet at Saratoga begins on Thursday, July 17 and this will allow Baffert to enter horses there.

Bob Baffert is back in business in New York–at least for the time being. On Wednesday, Judge Carol Bagley Amon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled that Baffert’s due process rights had been violated when NYRA issued a ‘temporary suspension’ on May 17 following Medina Spirit’s positive drug test following the Kentucky Derby. Amon indicated that part of the justification for issuing the stay was to enable Baffert to enter horses in the Saratoga meet which begins on Thursday.

The crux of the decision involved NYRA’s failure to provide Baffert with a prompt post-suspension hearing where he could address the claims against him. This was necessary for NYRA to fulfill their duty to ensure Baffert’s constitutional right to due process but–in the judge’s words–the regulatory body “had held no hearing — let alone a prompt one.”

The decision was welcomed by Baffert’s team including his Attorney W. Craig Robertson III who represented the trainer at a Monday hearing before the judge. In his view, the judge’s stay confirms that “following the Kentucky Derby, there was an improper rush to judgment and Mr. Baffert has been treated unfairly.” He went on to stay that the ruling was “one step, in one venue, toward righting those wrongs” and put the onus on NYRA to be more cooperative in the future:

“Bob Baffert and NYRA have had a good relationship in the past. My hope is that they can get to that point again for the overall good of horse racing.”

No surprise that NYRA Chief Executive David O’Rourke felt a need to get in the last word. He said that his organization is reviewing their options to determine their next move before concluding:

“What is clear, however, is that Mr. Baffert’s actions and behavior can either elevate or damage the sport. We expect Mr. Baffert to exert appropriate control over his operation.”

The judge’s decision wasn’t a slam dunk win for Baffert’s side. She dismissed his legal team’s contention that NYRA did not have jurisdictional status to issue a suspension. She did take issue with NYRA’s claim of a unilateral right to exclude people from their property as a private organization:

“The laws and contracts that presently govern NYRA demonstrate that, as every other court to consider the issue has held, NYRA’s suspension of Baffert constitutes state action, and noting that NYRA is “fully accountable to the people of the state of New York. … As NYRA has conceded in other cases, New York has so far insinuated itself into a position of interdependence with NYRA that NYRA’s actions are fairly attributable to the state.”

The judge also shot down NYRA’s claim that they were forced to act quickly on the Baffert matter to guarantee the integrity of their sport and to ensure to the public that races are conducted fairly:

“That may be true, but the public has no interest in having the ‘integrity of the sport’ enforced by unconstitutional means.”

She also pointed to other trainers that were allowed to continue racing at NYRA tracks pending a hearing:

“NYRA’s assertion of these interests is also to some extent undermined by the fact that apparently it has permitted other trainers with similar or more serious histories of medication violations to continue racing at NYRA racetracks.”

Overall, the judge indicated that Baffert’s team demonstrated that it is likely they will prove the suspension violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. She also noted that the trainer made a ‘strong showing’ that he would suffer irreparable harm if the suspension was not lifted:

“The 2021 Saratoga summer meet is a one-time opportunity. And given that many of the races are limited to horses of a certain age, an inability to compete in those races now means those horses will never have the chance.”

“Baffert will face substantial damage to his income, client base, and reputation if he cannot enter horses at NYRA races for the indefinite future. He has already lost one prominent client and stands to lose others, and has been deprived of the ability to compete at Belmont.”

As of yet, there has been no word of what Baffert’s plans are for the upcoming Saratoga meet. Obviously, it would have been presumptuous to release this before Monday’s hearing. Now that his stay has been lifted, this information will likely be made public in due course.

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