Attorneys for Bob Baffert on Wednesday blasted a group of gamblers’ class-action lawsuit against the trainer as one based on a “tinfoil conspiratorial premise.”
Baffert’s attorneys filed a memorandum with a New Jersey federal court asking for dismissal of Michael E. Beychok, et. al., v. Robert A. Baffert and Bob Baffert Racing Stables Inc. The filing was first reported by Thoroughbred Daily News.
Beychok and other aggrieved horseplayers sued Baffert soon after he revealed last May that Medina Spirit failed a drug test following his Kentucky Derby victory. They based their case on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act – a statute whose origins stem from combating organized crime – and New Jersey state fraud laws.
Attorneys Craig Robertson of Lexington, Ky., and Gavin Rooney of Roseland, N.J., represent Baffert in this case. Their filing attacked the gamblers’ racketeering suit on multiple grounds.
First, Baffert’s attorneys said the New Jersey court lacks the jurisdiction over Baffert necessary to decide this case. They noted that plaintiffs originally filed the case in California, where the trainer is based, only to dismiss it and refile in New Jersey.
"This matter concerns a horse that trained in California and raced in Kentucky,” the filing reads. “Baffert’s contacts with New Jersey are virtually non-existent. They merely consist of Baffert participating in two New Jersey races (one in 2019 and one in 2020) over the past five years amounting to .00131% of his business.”
Baffert’s attorneys also dismissed the idea that simulcasts of races into New Jersey satisfy jurisdictional requirements. They noted that Baffert has no control over where simulcast signals are sent, and that such an argument would seemingly allow professional athletes to be hauled into any court across the U.S., simply because their games were broadcast nationally.
“Even if one were to accept plaintiffs’ tinfoil conspiratorial premise that Baffert engaged in a nationwide racketeering scheme to defraud individuals he never met, plaintiffs would still have to establish that at least some of the alleged illicit conduct actually occurred in New Jersey,” the filing reads. “They have utterly failed to do so.”
Next, Baffert’s attorneys said the gamblers cannot meet the “case or controversy” requirement necessary for their claims to be addressed.
The attorneys noted that Medina Spirit has not been disqualified and asserted that such disqualification “is hardly a foregone conclusion and will take years to litigate.” But even if the DQ occurs, Baffert’s attorneys said, the plaintiffs have no recourse because Kentucky rules state that all payouts to pari-mutuel bettors are final.
“If the plaintiffs did not like said rules, they were free not to wager,” the filing reads.
Baffert’s attorneys also called for dismissal on the grounds that the gamblers failed to state a proper civil RICO claim. Plaintiffs bringing a claim on those grounds must establish they suffered an injury to their business or property by reason of a RICO violation.
“Gambling income is far too speculative” to satisfy that standard, the filing reads.
Finally, Baffert’s attorneys said the gamblers lack the kind of “concrete injury” necessary to prevail on their New Jersey state-law tort claims.
Baffert’s attorneys called for the claims to be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs could not bring them in another case.
The New Jersey case is just one aspect of Baffert’s broader ongoing legal battles.
Medina Spirit’s failed post-Derby test resulted in Baffert’s two-year suspension from Churchill Downs, Inc. properties. Baffert attorney Clark Brewster did not deny a New York Times report that he could sue CDI, while Churchill’s top executive told employees that any Baffert lawsuit fighting his suspension would be “without merit.”
There is also still an ongoing court battle in Kentucky over Medina Spirit's failed test. If the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission issues a disqualification, CDI has said runner-up Mandaloun will be promoted to the victory.
Amid the courtroom and boardroom drama, Medina Spirit died suddenly last month at Santa Anita following a morning workout. California officials are investigating the colt’s death, including by conducting a necropsy.