LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – There is at least one entity in horse racing that appears ready to stand up to Bob Baffert.
Baffert's Corniche will enter his 3-year-old campaign unbeaten after a victory in Friday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, generally enough to tab a colt the early Kentucky Derby favorite.
That won't happen with Corniche, however, as long as Baffert is his trainer.
Churchill Downs sent out its updated "Road to the Kentucky Derby" on Friday night, and good to the track's word, Corniche was nowhere to be found. Churchill has announced that no colt who is trained by someone under suspension from the track will be allowed to accrue points for the Kentucky Derby.
So beside Corniche's name under the first-place victory in the Juvenile is "0." Zilch. Nada.
Baffert, after the Juvenile, didn't sound worried.
"The Derby’s a long ways off and so right now my focus was just getting him here,” Baffert said of Corniche. “We’ll see how it plays out. There’s still a lot of things going on. A lot can happen between now and then.”
In horse racing, inbreeding is the norm. Breeders have long favored purity over diversity when mingling bloodlines. But at the Breeders' Cup, inbreeding isn't just limited to sheds.
When Breeders' Cup leadership met to determine whether Baffert would be allowed to run in the Breeders' Cup in California, 10 of the 12 people on the board, according to a New York Times article, own horses trained by Baffert.
The board, whose deliberations have been kept secret from the public, ruled that Baffert could race, but only with extra testing and security.
It was, perhaps, a convenient concession for those owners and for California racing. But for the sport as a whole, there needs to be a consistent approach to the rules.
Because there isn't, what is materializing is the race of the (young) century. Churchill Downs vs. Bob Baffert. The home of the Kentucky Derby vs. the winningest trainer in Kentucky Derby history.
The call to post has long since happened, and they're headed for the gate through a pissing-match parade, battles over blood and urine collected from Medina Spirit after the colt's Kentucky Derby win last May, but now evidence of a race day banned substance, betamethasone, present in the colt's system.
Baffert claims there are tests that will prove the substance was administered to his horse as a topical ointment, not an injected steroid.
Churchill officials, by suspending Baffert for two years after two tests of race day samples proved the presence of the drug during the Derby, are making the statement that the form of administration doesn't matter. The presence of the substance is a violation, and a careless affront to the most famous race in a sport that has tried in recent years to clean up its act.
Baffert – and his vet –signed an agreement saying that, as a condition of racing at Churchill, they wouldn’t administer impermissible substances to the horses in their care. When a horse tested positive – in the biggest race in the country, no less (not to mention for the same substance in a marquee race for a second straight year) – Churchill had grounds for action, and wasted no time taking it.
Now, it is standing behind that action, a stand that surely will be challenged in court soon enough.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is being held at bay by a New York lab that appears to have handled Medina Spirit's remaining sample with all the care and caution of the Three Stooges. Damaged vials. Lost samples. Unreasonable delays.
Think about this. It took less than 11 months from the first confirmed COVID case in the U.S. to get an emergency authorization for a vaccine. But they're telling us a resolution of this Medina Spirit thing could take years? A urine sample has been sitting in a New York lab for four months and there's no resolution?
This should not continue. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission should set a deadline, and proceed.
Yes, we're only in the first quarter, when it comes to the courtroom wrangling. But the racing commission in Kentucky is being taken for a ride, and it's time for that to stop. Rule that the positive was an innocent mistake from a topical ointment, or rule that it doesn't matter and if you use a banned substance in back-to-back years (2020 Kentucky Oaks, 2021 Kentucky Derby), those actions just might have significant consequences.
It's time to make a call. This isn't rocket science. It isn't developing a vaccine to a previously unknown virus.
It's time for horse sense to take over.
That Medina Spirit will run in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday while his Kentucky Derby win is still in question is not only a disservice to the Derby, but to the entire sport.
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