Baffert-Medina Spirit stewards hearing gets no quick decision

Baffert-Medina Spirit stewards hearing gets no quick decision
Photo: Ron Flatter

Trainer Bob Baffert took questions from his lawyers and from stewards Monday in his bid to preserve the late Medina Spirit’s 2021 Kentucky Derby victory in the face of a positive drug test.

But after a Zoom hearing that was said to have lasted about three hours, the three stewards who will decide whether to disqualify Medina Spirit more than nine months after his victory did not reach an immediate conclusion.

RELATED: Here was what we knew before the hearing.

According to one of Baffert’s attorneys, there was no indication when a decision would be coming.

“We asked them that direct question,” Kentucky based-lawyer Craig Robertson told Horse Racing Nation in a telephone conversation Monday night. “They did not want to put a time frame on it.”

“All went very well,” texted Clark Brewster, Baffert’s other attorney who flew back and forth between his Oklahoma home base and the meeting based in Lexington, Ky. “We gave them much to consider.”

A spokeswoman for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which conducted the meeting, did not return emails and telephone calls from Horse Racing Nation before and afterward seeking information about the hearing, which was held via Zoom and closed to the public. Even though Baffert and his attorneys also were in Lexington, they were not allowed to be in the same room as the stewards who were said to have cited COVID restrictions.

A spokeswoman for Churchill Downs Inc., which was represented by steward Tyler Picklesimer, said she did not have any details about the meeting, which was called to hear team Baffert’s side.

The case centers on a post-Derby drug test last May that revealed a trace amount of betamethasone in Medina Spirit’s system.

“Bob spoke, and Dr. Steven Barker testified as well,” Robertson said, referring to the retired chemist who spent 29 years as director of the Equine Medication Surveillance Laboratory at Louisiana State University.

Robertson said Baffert and Barker each offered about 20-25 minutes of testimony that included questions from the three stewards hearing the case.

“I appreciated the engagement of the stewards and their time,” Robertson said. “They were reading things that we presented to them. They were listening to the testimony. They asked good questions. All that is appreciated.”

Baffert, who flew from California to join Brewster in Kentucky, did not respond right away to a texted question after the hearing.

The crux of Baffert’s argument is that Medina Spirit’s betamethasone positive was caused not by an injection but by a topical ointment that was used to treat a skin disorder. The medication is legal in Kentucky as long as it is out of a horse’s system by race day.

Baffert and his lawyers have maintained that, because the corticosteroid was rubbed on the colt rather than injected, it was legal under state racing regulations that they say make a clear distinction between the two applications.

“The Kentucky rules and all other jurisdictions restrict only betamethasone acetate or sodium phosphate,” Brewster said in a statement emailed to the media by a spokeswoman Thursday night. “These formulations are injectable solutions into a horse’s intra-articular joint. Medina Spirit was never injected with betamethasone, and the evidence presented (Monday) proved that conclusively.”

Robertson said affidavit testimony also was provided by Dr. George Maylin, director of New York Equine Drug Testing and Research where Medina Spirit’s urine sample was sent by the Baffert team last year for a second opinion.

“Given the facts and the definitive, scientific conclusion of Dr. Maylin proving that this was an ointment and not the injection, we established that there was no rule violation,” Robertson said.

In its disagreement, CDI banned Baffert from racing his horses at its tracks for two years, keeping him out of the 2022 and 2023 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. It also cited a betamethasone positive for Gamine, a Baffert filly who was disqualified from her third-place finish in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks.

Robertson said the hearing did not involve anyone representing the other side.

“The stewards just relied on the lab reports from the original testing,” he said. “That’s what we had to respond to. Those lab reports were not formally presented by opposing counsel.”

With a majority vote, Picklesimer and KHRC stewards Barbara Borden and Butch Becraft eventually will decide whether Medina Spirit keeps his Derby victory or is disqualified to last place. That would make runner-up Mandaloun the 2021 Derby winner, although such a result would come with a likely appeal by Baffert. That would send the case to an administrative law judge.

“I don’t want to make a statement where I’m making some prediction about what I think they’re going to do,” Robertson said. “I guess I’ll say I am cautiously optimistic.”

“We are now left to trust that the stewards will apply the uncontroverted facts to the Kentucky racing rules as they are written,” Brewster said in his statement, later adding, “The false narrative regarding this case was sprung early and spread widely by uninformed or malevolent accusers and spread by careless reporting. Upon an honest and fair-minded review, Bob Baffert and Medina Spirit will be fully exonerated.”

If the stewards’ ruling lets Medina Spirit’s victory remain intact, Baffert is expected to call on Churchill Downs to rescind his Derby ban. If Medina Spirit were to be disqualified, Baffert would have 10 days to call on the KHRC to have the case heard by an administrative law judge.

Medina Spirit died Dec. 6, seven months after the Derby, after collapsing at the end of a five-furlong workout at Santa Anita. A necropsy revealed no obvious cause of death, the California Horse Racing Board announced Friday.

Coincidence or not, the KHRC has a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. EST.

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