LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A second post-race blood sample from Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit has tested positive for betamethasone, attorneys for owner Amr Zedan and Bob Baffert confirmed on Wednesday morning.
The development could lead to just the second drug-infraction disqualification in the race's 147-year history, but there is more testing to be done before the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission renders a decision.
Clark Brewster, an attorney's for Medina Spirit's owner, Amp Zedan, told The New York Times on Wednesday that a the second or "split" post-race blood sample had come back positive after testing at the University of California, Davis.
He also told the Times via text message that other tests, which could have confirmed Baffert's explanation that the substance was found in the colt because of a topical application to treat a skin condition, were not performed.
He said that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has agreed to send the original blood and urine specimens to an independent lab for testing that could show that the source might be a topical ointment.
Craig Robertson, Baffert's attorney, also confirmed the second positive test, but added in an e-mailed statement, "There is other testing that is being conducted, including DNA testing. We expect this additional testing to confirm that the presence of the betamethasone was from the topical ointment, Otomax, and not an injection. At the end of the day, we anticipate this case to be about the treatment of Medina Spirit’s skin rash with Otomax. We will have nothing further to say until the additional testing is complete."
A spokeswoman for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. Sherelle Roberts-Pierre told the Associated Press that the commission “values fairness and transparency and will provide information to the media and public at the close of an investigation.”
Churchill Downs officials say they are awaiting official notification of the split-sample test results from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
Baffert announced the the first finding at his Churchill Downs barn on May 9, and Churchill Downs quickly suspended him from racing at the track and announced that a confirmation of the positive test could result in disqualification of the colt.
Several days later, Baffert conceded that the source of the substance in his colt’s blood test could have been a topical cream administered to the horse for a case of dermatitis on his left hind leg. The ointment contained betamethasone, though Baffert said the amount found in the colt’s blood – 21 picograms per milliliter – wasn’t enough to have an impact on his Kentucky Derby performance. Robertson confirmed that the second sample showed 25 picograms per milliliter.
Medina Spirit went on to run third in the Preakness Stakes after passing a battery of pre-race drug tests. Baffert did not attend, but issued a statement that took a more apologetic tone.
“As I have stated from the beginning, there was never any attempt to game or cheat the system and Medina Spirit earned his Kentucky Derby win,” Baffert said in the statement. “[The] presence of 21 picograms of an allowable therapeutic medication . . . would have nothing to do with Medina Spirit’s hard earned and deserved win. That win was the result of the horse’s tremendous heart and nothing else. Notwithstanding the foregoing, I acknowledge that I am not perfect and I could have better handled the initial announcement of this news. Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby win was so personally meaningful to me, and I had such a wonderful experience on May 1 at Churchill Downs, that when I got the news of the test results, it truly was the biggest gut punch I had ever received and I was devastated. That, coupled with the fact that I always try to be accommodating and transparent with the media, led to an emotional press conference on May 9 in which I said some things that have been perceived as hurtful to some in the industry. For that I am truly sorry. I have devoted my life’s work to this great sport and I owe it, and those who make it possible, nothing but an eternal debt of gratitude.”
In April 2020, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission said that betamethasone could be administered intra-articularly up to 14 days before to a race. The acceptable threshold level was reduced from 10 picograms per milliliter (mL) in serum or plasma to zero in August 2020.
But Baffert has argued that because betamethasone was used topically, and not injected, the performance of the colt was not affected.
Baffert has been suspended from racing by the New York Racing Association, and will not take part in this weekend's Belmont Stakes.
The matter is not likely to be decided anytime soon, with more testing to come. The commission could move to disqualify Medina Spirit for the presence of a substance banned on race days in Kentucky. Or it could determine that the substance did not impact the colt's race day performance.
Marty Irby, a lobbyist on horse racing issues and activist for animal rights, issued a statement on behalf of Animal Wellness Action, of which he is executive director.
“The news of Medina Spirit’s second test confirmed positive is no shock," the statement says. "Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby, and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission must stand firmly together in agreement to take the 2021 Derby title away from Bob Baffert and the horse. And we call on Churchill Downs to show no mercy and permanently ban Bob Baffert and his horses from the Kentucky Derby and all of Churchill Downs’ tracks. It’s time to end the cheating and medication abuse in the fastest two minutes in sports and an example must be made.”
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