- Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit has resumed galloping at Santa Anita after a few weeks off.
- Medina Spirit could be pointed to the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 17.
- Baffert is under indefinite suspension by the New York Racing Authority (NYRA) eliminating the possibility that he could run horses at Saratoga this summer.
Bob Baffert hasn’t had a good summer so far. Following a Kentucky Derby win with Medina Spirit it looked like business as usual for the Hall of Fame trainer and a presumptive trip to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes. That was before a postrace positive drug test for betamethasone put the Kentucky Derby status in jeopardy and dramatically complicated Baffert’s near term racing plans.
Baffert is still waiting the final word from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on a possible Kentucky Derby DQ for Medina Spirit as well as any additional punitive action. Whatever they end up doing will likely be met with legal challenges from Baffert so the ultimate disposition could drag on for some time. In the meantime, he’s under a two year ban from Churchill Downs, Inc. owned tracks and an indefinite suspension by the New York Racing Authority (NYRA). Once a final decision comes out of Kentucky’s horse racing regulators there will likely be more clarity given by NYRA on the duration and conditions associated with their sanctions against Baffert.
The most immediate impact of Baffert’s status will be felt in the coming months. In a perfect world, Baffert would likely be looking at shipping horses in for the big stakes events at Saratoga this summer. The 2021 meet is a lucrative one with 76 stakes events worth a total of $21.5 million in purses. With the NYRA ban, however, the Saratoga meet is completely off the table for Baffert’s shippers. Since NYRA’s sanctions extend to ‘any individual employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables’ there’s no possibility of an end-around like having horses entered under the name of assistant Jimmy Barnes. Baffert is a smart guy and he’s no doubt aware that this isn’t the time for any effort to ‘exploit the fine print’ to enter horses in NYRA races. Baffert is a three time winner of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, most recently with West Coast in 2017.
Last week, however, he did get some much needed support that likely indicates what his immediate racing plans will be. Dennis Drazen, chairman and CEO of Darby Development–operators of New Jersey’s Monmouth Park—spoke effusively about Baffert to the Asbury Park Press:
“I’m sure there will be those that disagree with me and think we should ban him, but we’re not doing that at Monmouth Park. Bob Baffert has been a big part of Monmouth Park. He has brought his top horses to the Haskell every year, including American Pharoah. I think he has done a lot for New Jersey racing and always showcased the best horses here and Bob is a valued friend of Monmouth Park who we always felt was on our side and always did right by us. I consider Bob a friend of Monmouth Park.”
Drazin went on to say that he would ‘welcome’ a Baffert trained horse to run in Monmouth’s marquee race, the July 17 Grade 1 Haskell Invitational with a $1 million USD purse. Not only would this be the most lucrative opportunity for Medina Spirit he could also replay Drazin’s loyalty in the process–the presence of the Kentucky Derby winner would give Monmouth a big ‘name’ that should boost attendance and betting handle. Baffert has a very impressive track record in the Haskell–he’s won it nine times, more than any trainer in history. Last year, Baffert’s Authentic won the event.
So far, no word from the Baffert camp–not a surprise given the situation. There’s no reason for him to make any plans public at this point and will likely not make any type of comment until some type of official ruling comes down from the Kentucky regulators. Should the Kentucky board suspend Baffert’s training license other state racing commissions would reciprocate–that would include the New Jersey Racing Commission. While this would preclude Baffert from entering horses at Monmouth not to worry–Drazen made clear that his long time assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes would be welcome to bring horses to his track.
As for Medina Spirit, he has resumed galloping at Santa Anita after taking a few weeks off following a third place finish in the Preakness Stakes on May 15. Baffert hasn’t made any public indication of where Medina Spirit will be pointed but with limited options the Haskell is likely the best move that he and owner Amr Zedan could make.