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Kentucky Derby Winner Fails Drug Test, Renewing Scrutiny For Trainer Bob Baffert

Medina Spirit, ridden by jockey John Velazquez, leads the field  during the Kentucky Derby in Louisville on May 1. On Sunday, trainer Bob Baffert revealed the Derby winner had failed a drug test.
Medina Spirit, ridden by jockey John Velazquez, leads the field during the Kentucky Derby in Louisville on May 1. On Sunday, trainer Bob Baffert revealed the Derby winner had failed a drug test.

Medina Spirit, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby earlier this month, has failed a drug test. It is the latest of a long line of drug test failures by trainer Bob Baffert's horses.

Baffert, who had celebrated a record seventh Derby victory, disclosed the positive test at a press conference Sunday at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Ky. He denied any wrongdoing and indicated that the horse had never knowingly been treated with betamethasone, the steroid for which it tested positive.

"I got the biggest gut-punch in racing, for something I didn't do," Baffert said.

If Medina Spirit fails a second test on a second sample, also collected at the time of the race, the horse will be disqualified from the Derby and its $1.86 million in winnings forfeited. Baffert will have a chance to appeal the case, which could take months to adjudicate.

Following the news, Churchill Downs — the site of the Kentucky Derby — has banned Baffert from entering horses in any event at the racetrack.

"Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby," the Churchill Downs company said in a statement. "We will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commissions' investigation before taking further steps."

In 2018, Justify — another horse trained by Baffert — became just the second Triple Crown winner in four decades. The most prestigious achievement in horseracing, the Triple Crown is awarded to horses that win three of the sport's most prominent races: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

According to reporting by the New York Times though, Justify had failed a drug test weeks before its first Triple Crown race — which, had it been disclosed, would have disqualified it from participating in the race.

The horse's breeding rights were reportedly sold for $60 million.

Last month, Baffert won an appeal with the Arkansas Racing Commission which issued a 15-day suspension over two positive drug tests involving his horses in May 2020. He said the horses were inadvertently exposed to the painkiller lidocaine.

Another Baffert-trained horse, Gamine, tested positive for betamethasone in October.

If Medina Spirit is disqualified, he will be just the second horse in Kentucky Derby history to be dethroned because of a drug infraction. In 1968, Dancer's Image was disqualified over use of phenylbutazone, a pain reliever that is now permitted for use during races.

For now, Medina Spirit is still set to race in the Preakness on Saturday as it pursues a record third Triple Crown win for Baffert.

At Sunday's press conference announcing the positive drug test, Baffert said he was worried about the state of horseracing.

"There's problems in racing," he said, "but it's not Bob Baffert."

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