Bob Baffert recommended by hearing officer for 2-year NYRA ban

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A retired New York State Supreme Court Justice on Wednesday recommended a two-year suspension for Bob Baffert for repeated medication violations after the two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer’s hearing with the New York Racing Association.

The 50-page ruling by hearing officer O. Peter Sherwood is not a final decision. Baffert’s camp and NYRA each have 14 days to offer rebuttals before a three-person panel rules on his status.

“NYRA met its burden with respect to all three of the charges against Baffert,” Sherwood wrote in his opinion, referring to charges of conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing, the health and safety of horses and jockeys, and the organization’s business operations. “NYRA maintains (and the record shows) that Baffert has engaged in a pattern and practice of unlawful conduct that has no parallel in the modern history of thoroughbred racing.”

The panel’s decision cannot be appealed through NYRA’s process, which was developed last year after Baffert successfully sued in federal court to get his initial suspension in the state of New York lifted. That suspension in May came before the Belmont Stakes and after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that was not permitted in a horse’s system on race day.

Churchill Downs suspended Baffert for two years, leaving him unable to enter horses in the Kentucky Derby this year and next. Baffert is fighting that ban in federal court.

Baffert on April 3 began serving a 90-day suspension imposed by the state of Kentucky for medication violations. The suspension will be honored in all 38 states where horse racing occurs and would mean no Baffert-trained horses in the Preakness on May 21 or the Belmont on June 11.

He already has transferred horses to other trainers so they can run in the Derby on May 7.

Baffert’s future at NYRA’s three tracks – Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course – depends on the panel’s final decision.

If Saratoga attorney John J. Carusone, New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association executive director Will Alempijevic and New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America leader the Rev. Humberto Chavez take up Sherwood’s full recommendation, Baffert would be banned at NYRA tracks until summer 2024.

Medina Spirit tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone, which is not allowed in Kentucky on race day, and was later disqualified. The colt finished third in the Preakness two weeks after the Derby.

Medina Spirit collapsed and died in December in California. An exam found no definitive cause of death.

Baffert-trained Cruel Intention, Eclair, Charlatan, Gamine and Merneith also tested positive for a substance not allowed at that level on race day. Those violations occurred in California, Arkansas or Kentucky; none was in New York.

“These banned substances had the capacity to affect their performance,” Sherwood wrote.

Baffert, 69, is a Hall of Fame trainer who has become the face of the sport. He won the Triple Crown twice: in 2015 with American Pharoah and in 2018 with Justify.

NYRA declined additional comment, deferring to the report. Baffert attorney W. Craig Robertson did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the ruling.

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.