LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After denying for two days that his Kentucky Derby winning colt Medina Spirit was treated with betamethasone, a drug prohibited on race day in Kentucky, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said on Tuesday that he has learned the colt was administered an ointment that contained the drug.
Baffert said in a written statement that following the Santa Anita Derby, Medina Spirit developed dermatitis on his hind end and that his veterinarian recommended an anti-fungal ointment called Otomax. The trainer said the horse was treated with this ointment once a day until the day before the Kentucky Derby. That ointment contains the substance for which Medina Spirit tested positive in a post-Derby blood test, with 21 picograms per milliliter of blood.
"Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in Otomax is betamethasone," Baffert said. "While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms (per milliliter) found in Medina Spirit's post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results. As such, I wanted to be forthright about this fact as soon as I learned of this information."
Until Tuesday, Baffert had steadfastly denied that his colt could’ve gotten betamethasone from anyone in his barn, and in his statement said that he’s still not convinced of the accuracy of the test, or that the ointment is the cause of the positive result. A second part of the original sample must now be tested to confirm the original positive result. If it does, Medina Spirit could be disqualified as winner of the Kentucky Derby.
”I intend to continue to investigate and I will continue to be transparent,” Baffert said in his statement. “... I had no knowledge of how betamethasone could have possibly found its way into Medina Spirit (until now) and this has never been a case of attempting to game the system or get an unfair advantage ... Medina Spirit earned his Kentucky Derby win and pharmacologists have told me that 21 picograms of betamethasone would have had no effect on the outcome of the race. Medina Spirit is a deserved champion and I will continue to fight for him.”
Whether Kentucky state racing officials will agree with Baffert if the split sample comes back positive is another question. Baffert’s filly, Gamine, was disqualified after finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks last fall after testing positive for the same substance. Baffert did not fight that disqualification, acknowledging that the filly had been administered the legal drug 18 days before the race, but that it must have failed to clear her system.
Knowing that drug, however, and having had that experience with Gamine, some argue that Baffert should have been more attuned to the risk of using any ointment with his colt before the Kentucky Derby.
Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action and a longtime advocate for more humane treatment of racehorses, said that, “Churchill Downs should drop the hammer on Baffert and indefinitely suspend him from racing at its tracks. Given his long pattern of doping violations, Baffert should be extraordinarily alert to all substances that go into horses under his control. Horses should get water, hay and oats in the run-up to race day and nothing else. It’s time for the horse racing industry to have a zero-tolerance policy for drugging violations.”
In the meantime, Medina Sprint and another Baffert colt, Concert Tour, hit the track at Pimlico Race Course Tuesday morning in preparation for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. Officials at the Maryland Jockey Club and with the Preakness are monitoring events closely to determine whether Baffert’s colts will be allowed to enter the race when post positions are drawn Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Churchill Downs already moved to suspend Baffert from races at its track after his announcement Sunday that Medina Spirit had tested positive.
A news release from Pimlico Tuesday afternoon included details of the morning training for Baffert’s colts, but nothing on whether there would be updates to their status for entering the race.
A decision to bar the colts from the Preakness could result in legal action, as could a disqualification by Churchill Downs.
Here is a copy of the entire statement released by Baffert's attorney, Craig Robertson:
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