The company that operates Churchill Downs Racetrack suspended horse trainer Bob Baffert on Wednesday woensdag for two years, just hours after lawyers revealed that his Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit had failed a second drug test for the banned steroid betamethasone.
The suspension means that no horse trained by him or Bob Baffert Racing Stables can race on a track owned by Churchill Downs Inc. until the end of the Spring Meet at Churchill Downs in 2023.
That encounter includes the Kentucky Derby, the first jewel in the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing.
Kentucky Horse Racing Commission officials have yet to decide whether Medina Spirit’s win in the Derby should be quashed over the two failed tests.
Baffert was temporarily suspended by New York race officials in mid-May, effectively blocking Medina Spirit or other Baffert horses from racing on Long Island on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen cited Baffert’s previous history of horse drug testing failures when announcing the two-year ban on the trainer, whose seven Derby wins are the most of any trainer.
This year alone, five horses failed drug tests at Baffert.
Carstanjen also took a shot at a Baffert for bringing up the idea that Medina Spirit only had betamethasone in his system because of an antifungal ointment applied to the horse.
“CDI has consistently advocated strict medication regulations so we can be sure horses are fit to race and the races are run fairly,” Carstanjen said in a statement.
“Reckless practices and violations of substances that endanger the safety of our horses and human athletes or endanger the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take steps to demonstrate that they are not tolerated,” said Carstanjen.
“Mr. Baffert’s track record of failed tests threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby,” the CEO said.
“Given these repeated failures over the past year, including the increasingly extraordinary statements, we firmly believe that it is our duty and responsibility to enforce our rights to enforce these measures.”
Churchill Downs Inc. said it reserves the right to extend Baffert’s suspension “if there are further violations in a racing jurisdiction.”
Baffert revealed on May 9 that Medina Spirit had tested positive for betamethasone, a steroid used for therapeutic purposes in horses, in a sample taken a week earlier on the day of the Derby victory. Baffert said 21 picograms of the drug were found in the sample.
The drug, usually used to treat pain and swelling in a horse’s joints, is legal for use in Kentucky.
But any trace of it on race day in the state is grounds for disqualification if a second test confirms it was in the blood that day.
On Wednesday, lawyers for the owner of Medina Spirit, Amr Zedan, and Baffert announced that betamethasone was also found in the second test of a blood sample.
Clark Brewster, the attorney for the Zedan, told CNBC officials are allowing the Medina Spirit team to have a third sample of the horse analyzed by another lab.
That test, Brewster said, could determine if there are chemicals that would support Baffert’s claim that: the betamethasone may come from a topical ointment known as Otomax, not an injection.
Brewster noted that picogram is only one trillionth of a gram.
“Hopefully they will make a reasonable judgment,” Brewster said, referring to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s review of the drug test results.
“I think there will be consensus on the subject that this is an infinitesimal amount that could not have affected the race,” the lawyer said.
Marty Irby, executive director of the advocacy group Animal Wellness Action, said in a statement that Churchill Down’s suspension of Baffert was a “quick and meaningful action…the nation should consider a greater punishment for the trainer.”
“He keeps snapping at weak penalties for doping violations,” Irby said. Baffert will only get the message with a prolonged suspension from the sport.
“On the bright side, it’s reassuring to know that Baffert will not be allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby until the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act – which bans doping in the sport on race day – has been implemented and fully enacted.”
Maryland race officials allowed Medina Spirit and another Baffert-trained horse, Concert Tour, to compete in the Baltimore Preakness Stakes in May after being given what Baffert had given them a “binding pledge for” full transparency of medical and test results that all results are released to the public.”
Medina Spirit finished third in the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, behind the winner, Rombauer and Midnight Bourbon. Concert Tour finished ninth.
Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC and NBC Sports, which broadcast the Triple Crown races.