Judge rejects Bob Baffert stay but delays suspension to April 4

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A Kentucky judge has denied Bob Baffert’s request to stay his 90-day suspension but delayed it until April 4 to allow his representatives to seek emergency relief through the state’s Court of Appeals.

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards last month suspended Baffert for 90 days, fining him $7,500, and disqualified Medina Spirit for having the corticosteroid betamethasone in his system when he won the Kentucky Derby last year. Baffert’s appeal to racing officials was denied, but the suspension that was scheduled to begin March 8 was delayed pending a court hearing.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate said that “the court understands the gravity of this ruling” on Baffert and will alleviate the impact by staying implementation of the suspension. He added, “However, absent relief from a reviewing court, the penalties imposed by Stewards Rulings 21-0009 and 21-0010 shall take effect on April 4, 2022.”

Baffert attorney Clark Brewster in a statement expressed disappointment in the court’s decision and said, “Given the importance of the matter, we intend to immediately appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.”

Attorneys for Baffert have argued that the betamethasone in Medina Spirit’s system came from a topical ointment, rather than an injection, which is banned. Racing officials have said no matter the source, betamethasone is not allowed on race day.

If upheld, the suspension would begin at the tail end of the qualifying season for the Kentucky Derby scheduled for May 7 at Churchill Downs. It would effectively remove the Hall of Fame trainer from participating in the Triple Crown, which includes the Preakness on May 21 and Belmont Stakes on June 11.

Craig Robertson, another of Baffert’s lawyers, had argued in court last week that if Baffert was forced to serve his suspension now, “he’s never going to get those days back if he wins on appeal.”

Lawyers for the commission cited four medication violations by Baffert over the past year, and attorney Jennifer Wolsing said he “presents an elevated risk of re-offense.”

Wingate rejected Baffert’s claim of irreparable harm and said that unlike an athlete’s finite period of eligibility and performance, as a trainer he is more of a coach than an athlete. The judge wrote that the horses, as athletes, have that finite window of eligibility and performance.

Wingate also said the court was confident the suspension would not destroy Baffert’s career and noted the trainer’s intent to continue. Any harm from missing the Triple Crown or other races would be monetary and not irreparable under state law.

“Baffert’s track record speaks for itself,” the ruling stated.

Wingate also wrote that the appeals court’s ruling in a 2015 case against trainer H. Graham Motion makes clear that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has the power to establish regulations, and that the effect of a banned drug is relevant.

Baffert also has sued Churchill Downs in federal court, seeking to challenge his two-year suspension by the Louisville home of the Kentucky Derby.

Animal Wellness Action executive director Marty Irby applauded the Kentucky court’s decision and said in a statement that horse racing has been plagued “time and time again” by Baffert’s scandals.

Irby added: “Baffert has snubbed the rule of law and evaded the consequences of his actions for far too long – the Run for the Roses will be paved with more credibility than we’ve seen in many years if Baffert and his horses are not present.”

Racing officials in California, where Baffert is based, have said they will honor the suspension if it is upheld. Medina Spirit died on Dec. 6 of a heart attack following a workout at a Santa Anita track. A necropsy found no definitive cause for his death.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.