The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted to deny trainer Bob Baffert a stay of his 90-day suspension Friday, upholding a decision made by KHRC Executive Director Marc Guilfoil.
This is the latest saga in the late Medina Spirit’s post-Kentucky Derby positive test for the anti-inflammatory betamethasone, banned on race days in Kentucky. After a nine-month hiatus, the KHRC stripped Medina Spirit of his Derby title, ruling runner-up Mandaloun the winner. It also fined Baffert $7,500 and imposed the 90-day suspension he is appealing.
Friday’s vote, held during a special session of the KHRC, was 10 votes against the stay and three abstentions from commissioners citing actual or perceived conflicts of interest. No commissioners voted in favor of the stay.
The vote came after a 30-minute session that was closed to the public and media. That followed 20 minutes of arguments from both attorneys: Clark Brewster representing Baffert and Jennifer Wolsing for the KHRC, who were strictly limited to 10 minutes each.
Brewster: suspension would end Baffert’s career
During his time, Brewster made the point that a 90-day suspension would essentially put Baffert out of business. Because rulings like this are typically honored by racing jurisdictions around the country, Baffert would have to disband his nearly 90-horse barn at Santa Anita Park and lay off his 70 employees.
From there, Brewster reiterated the point that served as the crux of Baffert’s legal strategy at every juncture: that the presence of betamethasone in Medina Spirit was from a topical ointment, not an injection, and as such, didn’t affect his first-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
In a statement distributed to media, Brewster said the “KHRC’s decision is a sudden arbitrary departure from its own 100-year precedent and from the general practice of courts everywhere in the United States. Let’s be clear: This is part of a continuing coordinated attack against Bob by powerful forces that are rife with ethical and business conflicts and that want to keep Bob’s horses from competing against their at the track. We look forward to obtaining a stay (to the suspension) in an impartial, unbiased court of law.”
A familiar refrain on betamethasone
The statement went on further, seeking once again to impress the difference between the betamethasone variants.
“Let’s also remember that the facts and law in the overall case are on Bob’s side. Fact: Kentucky regulates only the injectable form of betamethasone acetate, and not the topical betamethasone valerate. Fact: Medina Spirit was treated with an ointment, not an injection. And fact: the amount detected could not have impacted the horse’s performance or the outcome of the Kentucky Derby.”
Wolsing pounced on that claim, maintaining that under KHRC regulations, betamethasone is betamethasone — regardless of its source or variant. As such, it is a banned substance on race day.
KHRC: no difference between betamethasone variants
“In our regulation, class C betamethasone is not divided up into betamethasone valerate, betamethasone acetate, anything like that,” Wolsing said in the hearing. “It is just plain betamethasone.”
She also referenced Baffert’s recent drug violations, which racing commissions repeatedly cited as the justification for suspending the trainer. Medina Spirit’s failed drug test was Baffert’s fourth in a year.
This takes matters to the Franklin County Circuit Court, where Judge Thomas Wingate awaits to hear Baffert’s petition for a stay of that suspension. Wingate was the judge who ruled in favor of Baffert and Medina Spirit owner Amr Zedan last year when they petitioned for the KHRC to turn over one of Medina Spirit’s urine samples for private testing b a New York lab.
Wingate will hear arguments March 17.