Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s second blood test confirmed the presence of the banned steroid betamethasone, a lawyer for the horse’s owner told CNBC on Wednesday.
The second positive test greatly increases the chance that Medina Spirit’s May 1 victory will be reversed by Kentucky race officials and Mandaloun, who finished second that day, will be declared the winner.
Hours after the test was announced, the company that operates Churchill Downs Racetrack — the site of the Kentucky Derby — said it had immediately suspended Baffert for two years.
Clark Brewster, the attorney for Medina Spirit owner Amr Zedan, said officials are allowing another lab to analyze a third sample from the 3-year-old foal.
That test, Brewster said, could determine if there are chemicals that would support the trainer’s claim claim Bob Baffert that the betamethasone may come from an antifungal ointment applied to the horse and not from an injection.
If the third test gives that result, Brewster can use it to argue that Medina Spirit will be disqualified from the Derby, the first jewel in the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing.
The lawyer suggested that he could also dispute the accuracy and protocol of the first official test and the second analysis of blood, known as a split sample.
“I haven’t seen the paperwork to conclude that even the primary or split tests were correctly admitted,” Brewster said.
The second failed test was first reported by The New York Times on Wednesday.
Brewster said that if a horse fails an initial drug test, a trainer normally has the option to “send the B sample” for analysis to a selected lab for a second, confirmatory test.
For the Medina Spirit B sample, Brewster said, the horse’s team asked “both the blood and urine to be sent to such a lab.
The lawyer said that if both substances were tested, it could detect the presence of chemical components that would indicate whether betamethasone came from ointment.
“But they [racing officials] refused to send the urine, Brewster said. “They just sent the blood.”
The lawyer said that on Monday or Tuesday, the Medina Spirit team was informed that the lab had “found betamethasone” in the split sample.
Brewster said the lab hasn’t released the level of that steroid in the blood, “but they said it’s there.”
“They estimate it was 25 picograms,” he said.
Baffert first revealed at a May 9 press conference that Medina Spirit had tested positive for the steroid, saying the first sample was found to contain 21 picograms of betamethasone.
While that drug can be used legally on a horse in Kentucky, any trace of it on race day is grounds for disqualification if a second test confirms it was in the blood that day.
A picogram is one trillionth of a gram, a point Brewster made several times during a telephone interview on Wednesday.
The lawyer said in recent years testing labs have become able to detect minute amounts of pharmaceutical substances, some of which can enter a horse or human’s system through incidental contact, as opposed to intentional administration.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will have the final say on whether or not to invalidate Medina Spirit’s Derby win.
“Hopefully they’ll make a reasonable judgment,” Brewster said.
“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.
Baffert, who has seen five of his horses fail drug tests so far this year, was suspended indefinitely from Churchill Downs Racetrack, where the Derby is held, as a result of Medina Spirit’s first positive test.
Medina Spirit was later allowed to race in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, the second leg of the Triple Crown, on May 15, under an agreement that it and another Baffert-trained horse, Concert Tour, will undergo “rigorous testing and monitoring” , the Maryland Jockey Club said.
Medina Spirit finished third in the Preakness.
Medina Spirit will not race Saturday in the Belmont Stakes in Long Island, New York, as Baffert was temporarily suspended last month for entering horses in that race, the third jewel of the Triple Crown, or other major New York circuits as a result of the positive drug test from the Derby.
Baffert has trained two Triple Crown winners. He has trained seven Kentucky Derby winners, including Medina Spirit.
Baffert’s attorney, W. Craig Robertson III, later issued a formal statement on Wednesday regarding the most recent drug test.
“In response to questions, this will acknowledge that the split sample from Medina Spirit confirmed the finding of betamethasone at 25 picograms,” Robertson said.
“There are other tests being done, including DNA testing,” Robertson said.
“We expect these additional tests will confirm that the presence of betamethasone came from the topical ointment, Otomax, and not from an injection,” Robertson said.
“Ultimately, we expect this case to be about treating the rash of Medina Spirit with Otomax. We have nothing more to say until the additional testing is completed.”
Kristin Voskuhl, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said in a statement that the commission “will not comment or update on the status of ongoing investigations.”
“The KHRC is committed to fairness and transparency and will provide information to the media and the public at the end of an investigation,” Voskuhl said.
Marty Irby, executive director of the advocacy group Animal Wellness Action, said in a statement, “The news of Medina Spirit’s second positive test is not a shock.”
“Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission must work together firmly to take the 2021 Derby title away from Bob Baffert and the horse,” said Irby.
“And we call on Churchill Downs to show no mercy and permanently ban Bob Baffert and his horses from the Kentucky Derby and all Churchill Downs tracks. It is time to end the cheating and drug abuse in the fastest two minutes in the sport and an example must be made.”
Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC and NBC Sports, which broadcast the Triple Crown races.