Kentucky Derby Winner Tests Positive For Drugs
It was trainer Bob Baffert’s incredible seventh win at the Kentucky Derby and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez’s fourth win and second in two years. And his owners were due to win the winner’s share of $1.86 million for the victory.
All of that is now in jeopardy because the winning horse, Medina Spirit, tested positive for the regulated drug betamethasone and had more than twice the allowable limit. Betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory that is allowed in horse racing up to a certain level.
The victory is on hold as everyone at Churchill Downs waits for the results of a second test. But in the meantime, Baffert has been suspended by Churchill Downs, even as Medina Spirit prepares to run in the Preakness this Saturday. Something that is expected to happen unless something unforeseen is done by race officials at Pimlico.
Organizers of the Preakness Stakes say they will review all relevant facts and information related to the positive test. But since all parties related to any decisions handed down by Churchill Downs can appeal a decision, due process is likely to be completed before the race.
Statement from Churchill Downs
It is clear from the statement released by Churchill Downs on Sunday that officials there are treating this as a very serious violation:
“It is our understanding that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample indicated a violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols. The connections of Medina Spirit have the right to request a test of a split sample, and we understand they intend to do so.
“To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated, and [second place finisher] Madaloun will be declared the winner.”
“Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack.”
Bob Baffert’s Response
Baffert held a news conference shortly before Churchill Downs issued its statement, attempting to get ahead of the news with his own very strong denials.
“I intend to thoroughly and transparently investigate the matter to determine how this could have happened. We will have the split sample analyzed, and DNA performed. That will be the first step in the process.”
Baffert went on to allude to problems in racing and drug testing that go well beyond this incident, saying, “It’s disturbing. It’s an injustice to the horse. I don’t know what’s going on in racing right now, but there’s something not right. Also I don’t feel embarrassed. Adn I feel like I was wronged.”
This is not Baffert’s first issue with a post-race drug test. In fact, it’s his fifth in just over a year, including this same drug found in the blood of Gamine, who finished third at the Kentucky Oaks in September. Gamine was disqualified from the race, and Baffert was fined $1,500.
Just last month, according to a report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Arkansas Racing Commission upheld the disqualification of two of Baffert’s horses that had tested positive for lidocaine above the allowable levels. However, Baffert’s 15-day suspension was lifted.
What Happens After a Disqualification?
If the drug test is confirmed, then Medina Spirit will be the first horse at the Kentucky Derby to be disqualified because of a drug test since Dancer’s Image in 1968. In 2019 Maximum Security crossed the line first at the Derby but was later disqualified by Churchill Downs stewards for interference, giving the win to Country House.
Mandaloun would become the Derby winner in this case, but it’s already been decided that he won’t be racing the Preakness. So any pursuit of a Triple Crown would end with a disqualification of Medina Spirit.
The pari-mutuel wagering, however, will not change. Winning tickets that were cashed in Medina Spirit will still count. And if you happened to have a $2 ticket on Mandaloun that would have paid $50 with an official on-track win, it’s only good as a souvenir.
The pari-mutuel laws in every state are the same regarding betting results. Once the race has been declared official by the stewards at the race, all betting results are final as well. What happens after that, including a disqualification because of an illegal drug test, will not change which tickets are winners and which tickets are losers.