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.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.