Over the past several days the sports world has had to endure the stunning news of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failing a postrace banned substance test.
Elevated levels of betamethasone, a corticosteroid therapeutic medication that is commonly used with racehorses, was found in Medina Spirit, and in Kentucky, rules require at least a 14-day withdrawal time and any level of detection on race day is a violation.
There was much speculation in the days leading up to the Preakness post position draw that centered on whether the Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit would be permitted to enter.
Thankfully, the Maryland Jockey Club made the correct decision.
Before I give my thoughts on this latest mess racing will have to untangle itself from, let's take a look at this week's Division Rankings:
Older dirt males
1. Mystic Guide. Solid win in Dubai and is 2-for-2 on the season, but the Dubai World Cup (G1) field he defeated was nowhere near what we have come to expect from Dubai World Cup fields. Certainly has done enough to move into the top spot, though I am not sure how long he will stay here. In the states now and working at Keeneland, the Suburban at Belmont has been mentioned for his next start.
3. Silver State. 3-for-3 on the season, his Oaklawn Handicap (G2) win stamped him as a legitimate Eclipse contender in this division. He deserves this spot for what he has done in 2021.
5. Knicks Go. Also back on the work tab, he will be pointed toward the Steve Sexton Mile (G3) on May 31 at Lone Star. Despite his fourth-place finish in the Saudi Cup, which halted a four-race winning streak, I still believe he is the goods.
Next 5: Idol, Express Train, By My Standards, Rushie, Fearless.
Older dirt females
1. Letruska. Was simply spectacular in the Apple Blossom (G1), prevailing in an epic stretch duel over a future Hall of Famer in Monomoy Girl. She is now 13-for-17 in her career. A fascinating story, this mare started her career in Mexico City and ran six times, all wins, and was a champion in Mexico for her Mexican connections. She becomes the first horse who started their career in Mexico to win a Grade 1 race in this country. She is deservedly the No. 1 ranked female in this division and will be the leader in the Eclipse race as we near the halfway point of the season.
2. Shedaresthedevil. She was much the best in last week's La Troienne Stakes (G1), defeating a good field of older females. Previously this gal was gritty in her head win in the Azeri (G2) over Letruska, so why isn't she No. 1? Given how close their race was, and the field Letruska defeated in the aforementioned Apple Blossom, Letruska gets the slight nod. She could run in the Ogden Phipps on Belmont Day.
3. Monomoy Girl. Was gallant to the finish in the Apple Blossom, but came up a nose short. Clearly still on top of her game, something I wondered aloud about heading into this last race. News from last week now is that she was sent to the sidelines with muscle strains and hamstring soreness. Should be back later this summer.
5. Gamine. Had to work for her win in the Derby City Distaff (G1) over Sconsin, it is pretty clear now she will be kept sprinting. Still, she got the job done with the win. With fans used to the dominant Gamine we saw in 2020, the 2021 version has not been quite the same. Perhaps it is because this season she has been forced to run without Lasix, the anti-bleeding medication, after running with it in all of her previous starts.
Next 5: As Time Goes By, Envoutante, Bonny South, Ce Ce, Valiance.
1. Medina Spirit. Validated his high place in these rankings the last few months with another game performance in the Kentucky Derby as he refused to let another horse pass him. He has been beaten by two horses in his career, and still is not quite getting the credit he deserves after his Derby win. It was those two losses where he impressed me greatly with his grit in battling for the place spot. No, he does not need the lead to win, and very soon the non-believers of this horse will have to respect the heart this guy has displayed in his races, regardless of what happens with his Kentucky Derby placing.
2. Essential Quality. Only falls one spot after his better-than-looked fourth-place finish. Broke poorly out of the gate, lost ground around the turns, but he did have every chance down the lane to pass the leaders. He did run farther than the others because of his trip, but I am still not convinced that the 10 furlongs had something to do with his inability to get there at the end. Now his connections have chosen to skip the Preakness Stakes, a race I felt he would have been tough in and also a race where he could have redeemed himself. Will likely drop again in two weeks.
3. Hot Rod Charlie. Ran his race in Louisville and was in that four-way battle in the stretch for the win. He gamely held off Essential Quality for the show, but could not get by Mandaloun and Medina Spirit. He too will skip the Preakness where he would have been a major player in a race that Kentucky Derby horses usually dominate.
4. Mandaloun. Tremendous race from this guy with his Kentucky Derby runner-up finish. It demonstrated that his Louisiana Derby (G2) off-the-board finish was an aberration, a likely bounce from his strong Risen Star Stakes (G2) score one race prior. His connections will also bypass the Preakness.
5. Jackie's Warrior. Around one-turn, he may prove to be very tough. Ran one of the most impressive races of the weekend when winning the Pat Day Mile (G2). In going wire-to-wire, he reeled off a 43.68 half mile split and still had enough to hold off a very good horse in Dream Shake near the wire.
Next 5: Rock Your World, Life Is Good, Midnight Bourbon, Concert Tour, Highly Motivated.
1. Malathaat. Was sent off as the favorite in a strong edition of the Kentucky Oaks and she came through, narrowly edging Search Results by a neck at the wire. Watching her run, you get the feeling she will relish the Belmont Stakes distance of 12 furlongs, and that is where she may be headed next.
2. Search Results. Suffered her first loss to Malathaat in the Kentucky Oaks, but she was ultra game in defeat. She should get another crack at the top one later this year.
3. Clairiere. Came with her run in the Oaks and missed the show spot by just a nose. She too will have her chances to move up later this season.
4. Travel Column. Was traveling well on the lead in the Kentucky Oaks but the nine furlongs may have been her undoing and she faded in the stretch to be beaten a little over five lengths. The one mile Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont in June would suit her fine for her next start.
5. Will's Secret. Back-to-back third-place finishes in Grade 1 events bumps her up to this spot. She narrowly held off Clairiere for the show spot in the Kentucky Oaks in a nice effort.
Next 5: Wholebodemeister, Soothsay, Pauline's Pearl, Crazy Beautiful, Beautiful Gift.
1. Colonel Liam. Finally faced a tough field of turf horses and he passed the test as he dead heated with the very good Domestic Spending for the win in the Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs. Now 3-for-3 on the season, he is a serious player for the Eclipse as this race starts to heat up.
2. Domestic Spending. The Turf Classic was his second Grade 1 win in a row, previously taking the Hollywood Derby last fall. Now 5-for-6 on his career, trainer Chad Brown has himself another turf star.
3. Channel Maker. He simply didn't run his best race in Dubai, where he finished eighth, beaten six lengths in the Sheema Classic (G1). Previously, he ran a gallant race to finish second in the Neom Turf Cup In Saudi Arabia. Will be back racing in New York this summer.
4. Raging Bull. Certainly an impressive win in the Maker's Mark Mile (G1), his first start of 2021. Moves up to this spot for now, but I cannot help but remember last season when he was impressive in first start of 2020 in Santa Anita's Shoemaker Mile, also a Grade 1 win. He then went winless for the remainder of the season. In other words, I am skeptical he can string together wins.
5. Smooth Like Strait. This guy is two necks and a head from being a three-time Grade 1 winner. He set the pace in the Turf Classic and was just edged by a neck nearing the wire to finish third.
Next 5: Hit the Road, United, Ivar, Digital Age, Channel Cat.
Harvey's Lil Goil5. Charmaine's Mia. With her win in the Royal Heroine (G2) at Santa Anita, she ran her record to 3-for-3 on the year. All three of her wins have come in graded stakes, the most of any horse in her division thus far.
Next 5: Viadera, Mucho Unusual, Magic Attitude, Lemista, Jolie Olimpica.
1. C Z Rocket. Cemented his position here at the top with another win over Whitmore, this time in the Count Fleet Sprint (G3). He has quietly won seven of his last eight and is leading the Eclipse race as we enter the spring.
2. Mischevious Alex. Won his first Grade 1 race a few weeks ago in the Carter at Aqueduct in impressive fashion. Previously he scored in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3) in impressive fashion. He is the real deal this year, and his speed figures are on par or better than anyone else in this division. He could run in the Met Mile next.
3. Flagstaff. Tough old veteran is at the top of his game now as he scored his first Grade 1 win from 19 career starts in his last, the Churchill Downs Stakes. With two straight wins, these top three are tough to separate right now.
4. Whitmore. Another tough loss for this guy as he briefly had the lead late in the Churchill Downs Stakes, but was edged at the wire where he finished a close third in a blanket finish with four others. Previously he was twice runner-up to C Z Rocket at Oaklawn. As honest as they come.
5. Cezanne. Certainly a visually impressive win in the Kona Gold (G3) at Santa Anita, where he won by over nine lengths, but pump the brakes before you hand him the Eclipse. He beat only three other horses as he was able to lay far off a blazing early pace set by the race favorite, Brickyard Ride. In other words, I need to see a lot more before he moves up.
Next 5: Firenze Fire, Wildman Jack, Brickyard Ride, Empire of Gold, Lexitonian.
1. Gamine. Had to work for her win in the Derby City Distaff over Sconsin, still, she got the job done with the win. With fans used to the dominant Gamine we saw in 2020, the 2021 version hasn't been quite the same. Perhaps it is because this season she has been forced to run without Lasix, the anti-bleeding medication, after running with it in all of her previous starts.
2. Kimari. In her first graded stakes race on the dirt she did not disappoint, edging away in the stretch for a 3/4-length win over Bell's the One in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland. Have to believe she would have been tough in last weekend's Derby City Distaff, but her connections opted not to enter. That may cost them come Eclipse voting time.
3. Sconsin. Off the board in her seasonal debut in the Madison a few weeks ago, she shook the rust off with a strong runner-up finish to Gamine in the Derby City Distaff where she looked like she may run by the heavy favorite in the stretch. Remember, this gal finished fourth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
4. Bell's the One. Another somewhat of a disappointing effort when she was off the board in the Derby City, finishing fourth and beaten by over five lengths. I will keep her here for now, because I still believe she is among the best in this division. But one more subpar effort and she will drop.
5. Merneith. Won the Santa Monica (G2) last out and previously was third in the La Brea (G1) in December. Looks like she is finally realizing her potential for trainer Bob Baffert. In light training, she is not expected back until at least May.
Next 5: Edgeway, Estilo Talentoso, Frank's Rockette, Pacific Gale, Venetian Harbor.
Watch the clip below for more insight into the Division Rankings.
For Medina Spirit, the public reaction from those inside and outside of racing has been unfortunate for several reasons. I am specifically troubled by the rush to judgment from those inside the sport.
For starters, there are still several hurdles to clear before Medina Spirit is disqualified from his Kentucky Derby win. In this country, there is due process. The Maryland Jockey Club made the correct decision in allowing Medina Spirit to be entered into the Preakness. Unfortunately, many fans and media have skipped due process and condemned this decision.
I get it, rules are rules, no matter the medication or how high the levels were. But in this instance, I think most can agree this did not happen with any malicious intention. And that matters.
At some point common sense has to prevail. If the cause of the failed test was indeed the antifungal ointment containing the steroid betamethasone, so be it. But to believe this created an advantage or was done to give Medina Spirit some sort of edge by his connections is preposterous.
If a rule is broken, the connections should and will accept the consequences. The real problem here is bigger: Racing needs a governing body to evaluate cases like this. All violations are not one and the same.
To put it another way, there is a huge difference between rolling past a stop sign and killing someone while drunk driving. Both are against the law. One is not even close to a reason to put someone in jail.
Lastly, to all the fans and media alike on their high horse regarding Bob Baffert and Medina Spirit with condemnation. I rarely, if ever, have heard or read a printed word condemning problems they should have with races such as the Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup or horses campaigned by either ruling family.
The UAE is widely known for their troubling human rights record and history of discrimination against women. Just last year Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasihd al-Maktoum, the head of Godolphin and the head of the ruling family of Dubai was found by a British judge to be responsible for the abduction of two of his daughters during an ugly custody battle that included allegations of an intimidation campaign against one of his ex-wives.
What about the Saudi Cup? Women’s rights are almost nonexistent. According to the CIA, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the murder of a U.S.-based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in 2018. The crown prince is heavily involved in this sport, and yet the Saudi kingdom has gotten a free pass from the media in this sport.
At some point, the leaders of the racing industry will have to take moral responsibility for lending legitimacy to thuggish regimes such as the Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
As for this week’s Preakness, Medina Spirit knows nothing of the whirlwind of events leading up to the race. He towers over this field in every category. Kentucky Derby horses wheeling back two weeks later in the Preakness thrive, and I expect him to take care of business on Saturday.
The only one I feel bad for though this whole mess is the horse. Medina Spirit doesn't deserve for his name to be tarnished.
The Preakness this week is big for the sport for a variety of reasons, but mainly for public perception. Medina Spirit needs to run well for the mainstream media to put some of this controversy behind him, and then he needs to test cleanly afterward. It will validate his Kentucky Derby effort to them.
For me, validation is not necessary, he was the goods prior to the Derby and showed it on Derby Day, with or without the ointment to treat dermatitis on his hind leg.