Even those who do not follow horse racing like I do have certainly heard of the horse trainer Bob Baffert and his ongoing, shall we say, questionable practices.
Churchill Downs Racetrack suspended Baffert for two years after attorneys said Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit had failed a second drug test for a banned steroid.
The suspension means that no horse trained by Baffert or by Bob Baffert Racing Stables can race at any track owned by Churchill Downs Inc. through the conclusion of the 2023 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs.
That meet includes the Kentucky Derby — the first jewel in thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown.
Baffert was suspended from entering horses at New York racetracks, pending an investigation into Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed post-race drug test.
Baffert temporarily will not be allowed to stable any horses at Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course or run any of his horses at the New York Racing Association’s tracks. That ban included races at Belmont Park, with the Belmont Stakes on June 5.
New York Racing Association officials said they took into account Baffert’s previous penalties in Kentucky, California and Arkansas, along with the current situation with Medina Spirit, and expect to make a final determination about the length and terms of the suspension based on information revealed by Kentucky’s ongoing investigation.
Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone in post-race testing and faces disqualification. Even a trace amount of betamethasone in a horse’s system is not allowed on race day in Kentucky, Maryland and New York. Kentucky Horse Racing Commission officials have yet to rule on whether to overturn Medina Spirit’s victory in the Derby because of the two failed tests.
This was not the first time Baffert had issues with positive horse drug tests, this year alone he has had five violations involving impermissible levels of medication in his horses over the past 13 months. He was fined in Kentucky and Arkansas and avoided a suspension in Arkansas following appeal.
I have waived the Bob Baffert banner high since 1987 when he trained Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm. Since that time, he had become the only trainer to train two Triple Crown winners. American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015. Prior to Pharoah’s win, there was a 37-year gap between Triple Crown winners — the last was Affirmed in 1978. American Pharoah is also the only Grand Slam race winner, winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont and Breeder’s Cup Classic in the same year. Three years later, Baffert made history with his second Triple Crown winner, Justify in 2018. Baffert has accomplished the highest highs in horse racing.
Even though he had been accused of drug testing problems many times, I was still by Baffert’s side, assuming that since he was racing at such a top level, that others in the industry were “out to get him” or to “sabotage” his reputation, but that stops now. There have been far too many instances over the years for me to dismiss. Even though this last infraction was a fungal ointment, it was still a banned substance on race day.
How many horses and jockeys has he potentially harmed over the years — not just the ones he trained, but the ones who raced against them on tracks across the country.
When it comes to horse racing, I tend to be ideological and not want to believe that there is also a dark side to my sport. Horse racing has had a tough time in recent years trying to gain and keep an audience. Known as the Sport of Kings, horse racing, at one time was a unique and regal sport. It does not need bad actors on the inside taking away from that.
I now see Bob Baffert through clear lenses, and not rose-colored glasses, and I am retiring my Baffert banner with eyes wide opened.
Connie Wilcox-Timar is a lifestyles and community news reporter. She can be reached at email@example.com.