No race-day meds, strict whip rules at Breeders’ Cup

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

DEL MAR, Calif. — For the first time, all 14 Breeders’ Cup races this weekend at Del Mar will be run without race-day medication, the final step in a process that had the antibleeding medication Lasix prohibited in races for 2-year-olds at last year’s world championships.

Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien called the rule expansion “definitely a good thing.”

Breeders’ Cup CEO Drew Fleming said he believes the prohibition led to a record 46 foreign-based horses competing on Friday and Saturday, including seven from Japan.

“We don’t medicate our horses over here at all,” O’Brien said, “and the only medication they get is any kind of antibiotics for cold or flu or infections.”

O’Brien, second all-time in Breeders’ Cup purse earnings among trainers, previously used Lasix on his horses in the Breeders’ Cup to be on an even playing field.

Formally known as furosemide, Lasix is a diuretic that is widely used in the U.S. to prevent or curtail exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging. Most of the rest of the world’s major racing jurisdictions prohibit it on race days.

“It’s a legal medication, it’s a therapeutic medication, and I’m not sure the general public understands that,” said Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, who is an analyst on NBC’s coverage of the Breeders’ Cup. “Less medication to the general public I think would be positive.”

This year’s Triple Crown races were run without Lasix, as well as most of the graded stakes at such major tracks as Churchill Downs, Belmont and Saratoga in New York, Santa Anita and Del Mar in California and Keeneland in Kentucky. That includes races in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, which guarantees winners a spot in the two-day world championships.

Breeders’ Cup officials began on-site pre-competition testing a day earlier this year, collecting blood and urine samples from all 166 horses entered. Results are due back before scratch time on Friday.

Veterinarians from the Breeders’ Cup and California Horse Racing Board will have their eyes trained on all of the horses, from the paddock to the warmups to the starting gate and galloping out beyond the finish line.

The top four finishers in each race will be subject to post-race testing that looks for over 600 compounds in blood and urine samples, said Dr. Jeff Blea, the CHRB’s new equine medical director.

Strict whip rules enacted in California a year ago will have to be followed by jockeys, many of whom come from out of state or overseas for the richest two days in North American racing.

Riders are limited to six underhand strikes in a race and are allowed two strikes before giving their horses a chance to respond. Whips can be used only on a horse’s hind quarters or shoulders, cannot break the skin, cannot be used in a motion that begins above the shoulder, and cannot be used when a horse is out of contention or reached a maximum placing.

Violators can be fined or suspended.

“It’s different and they’re going to have to adjust,” Bailey said.

He called the rules a “crapshoot” because relative to the purse money at stake, the fines seem insignificant. Breeders’ Cup races range in value from $1 million to $6 million. A jockey typically earns 10% of the winning owner’s share of the purse.

“If you’re nose-and-nose for a win and you’re only going to have to pay $500 or $1,000 to break the rules, the incentive might be there for that much (purse) money,” Bailey said.

The most scrutinized trainer at Del Mar this weekend will be Bob Baffert, who leads all trainers in Breeders’ Cup purse earnings, with nearly $36 million.

In order to participate, he agreed to unprecedented screening, observation and testing of his horses at his own expense.

The closer observation is the result of Baffert having five medication violations in the last year.

He has eight horses entered, including three in the $2 million Juvenile on Friday. His filly, Gamine, is the early 3-5 favorite in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint on Saturday.

Medina Spirit, winner of the Kentucky Derby who failed a postrace drug test, runs in the $6 million Classic on Saturday.

“We look forward to a safe two days of racing,” Fleming said.

More changes await next year, when the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority is scheduled to take charge of testing, enforcement and punishment standards across U.S. racing.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4


ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”