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Team Baffert Files Suit Against Kentucky Horse Racing Commission

Ross Everett
by in Horses on
  • Trainer Bob Baffert and Medina Spirit owner Amr Zedan have filed a lawsuit against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC).
  • The suit is over post-race testing of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit.
  • Horse racing observers are expecting a protracted legal battle over the testing and outcome of the Kentucky Derby.

The inevitable first salvo was fired today in what is expected to be a drawn out legal scrum over Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s post-race drug test. Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, a regulated anti-inflammatory given to horses to reduce swelling in their joints. It’s a class of medication known as corticosteroids and is similar to what a human doctor might give a patient to expedite healing after an injury. According to Baffert, his horse tested positive for 21 picograms of the drug per milliliter of blood serum.

He’s also maintained that the presence of betamethasone was an inadvertent side effect of treatment with a skin ointment called Otomax. Medina Spirit was treated with Otomax until the day prior to the Derby. This was confirmed by Baffert and this distinction is at the heart of a lawsuit filed today by the trainer and Medina Spirit’s owner Amr Zedan. According to the suit, Kentucky regulators have denied requests for a more complete analysis of the postrace urine sample. The suit, filed in Franklin Circuit Court in Kentucky, alledges that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has violated the due-process rights of Medina Spirit’s connections by “refusing to allow a complete analysis of Medina Spirit’s split urine sample.”

Here’s how the Daily Racing Form described the crux of the lawsuit:

Attorneys for Baffert and Zedan have requested that the commission allow testing of the colt’s urine sample for substances other than betamethasone, under the belief that the horse tested positive for the drug through the use of a skin ointment, Otomax, that they have acknowledged was administered to Medina Spirit daily up to the day prior to the Derby. They contend that in the suit that testing for additional compounds contained in Otomax would support their case that the horse did not test positive for the drug through an injectable form.

That distinction is important for a number of reasons, most significantly as it relates to any sanctions levied by the KHRC against Baffert:

Like regulations in other states, Kentucky rules hold the trainer responsible for whatever is found in a horse’s system at the time of a race, but the rules also allow for mitigating circumstances in determining penalties. Attorneys for Baffert and Zedan have argued that the use of the skin ointment containing betamethasone should be a significant mitigating circumstance given that the KHRC’s regulation of betamethasone is based on the administration of the injectable form of the drug.

Baffert’s point is a pretty good one. He suggests that there has been a lack of transparency from the KHRC over testing and subsequent sanctions. Ethically speaking, there’s a world of difference between a trainer knowingly injecting a horse with a prohibited substance to ‘gain an edge’ and an inadvertent contamination as suggested by Baffert’s narrative. Should further testing confirm the use of Otomax it would appear to put any sanction against Baffert into a more lenient category than a willful attempt to inject him with betamethasone.

The due process component in Baffert’s suit also makes sense. While no official ruling has come from Kentucky regulators Baffert has been banned from entering horses at any Churchill Downs owned track as well as any track under the auspices of the New York Racing Association (NYRA). This type of reciprocal action would be appropriate after a ruling and sanctions from Kentucky but in absence of that smacks of a ‘rush to judgement’.

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