The 2022 Kentucky Derby takes place this Saturday, May 7 on NBC, Peacock, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has a serious contender in Epicenter (7-2), and Zandon, trained by Chad Brown, opened as the early favorite at 3-1.
But at this year’s Derby one of the most recognizable and successful faces of the sport won’t be in the field. Bob Baffert, who has won a record-tying six Kentucky Derbies, is suspended for both the 2022 and 2023 runnings of the race. This suspension, handed down by Churchill Downs, comes as a result of Baffert’s trainee, Medina Spirit, failing a drug test after the 2021 race. See below to find additional information on why Baffert won’t be at the 2022 Kentucky Derby and what it means.
What happened at the 2021 Kentucky Derby?
On May 1, 2021, Medina Spirit crossed the finish line at Churchill Downs, winning the Run for the Roses with a time of 2:01:02. The win would have been the seventh Derby victory for Bob Baffert, and would have broken his tie with Ben Jones for the all-time Derby record as a trainer. However, things changed just a week later after Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone. The drug is a legal treatment for horses and is often used as a therapeutic anti-inflammatory but is specifically prohibited in Kentucky on race day.
What punishments did Bob Baffert receive?
On February 21, 2022 – nine months after the Derby – the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) Board of Stewards officially disqualified Medina Spirit from the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs recognized Mandaloun, who initially crossed the line second, as the winner of the 147th Kentucky Derby. Additionally, Bob Baffert received a 90-day suspension and a $7,500 fine from the KHRC.
Churchill Downs had issued their own suspension of Baffert, banning him from the next two runnings of the Kentucky Derby (2022 and 2023) and announced that no Kentucky Derby qualifying points will be awarded to horses that he trains (the points will simply be vacated). Baffert is the former trainer of two horses in this year’s Derby field, Taiba and Messier. Both horses are now trained by Tim Yakteen, who is a former assistant of Baffert’s
Baffert filed for a motion of emergency relief from the 90-day suspension but the Kentucky Court of Appeals rejected the motion in April 2022 and the suspension will be honored in all 38 racing states. In regard to the two-year Kentucky Derby ban, Baffert has filed a lawsuit against Churchill Downs and will attempt to fight that battle in federal court.
When can Bob Baffert return to racing?
Bob Baffert’s 90-day suspension officially started on April 4 and will run through early July 2022, meaning he will miss the entire Triple Crown series, including the Preakness on May 21, and Belmont Stakes on June 11. The specific suspension from Churchill Downs applies to both the 2022 and 2023 Kentucky Derbies.
Why are Bob Baffert’s suspensions so significant?
KHRC specified in their ruling that Medina Spirit’s positive test was Baffert’s fourth medication violation in the span of 365 days, which led to the 90-day penalty. Otherwise, betamethasone is considered a class C drug, and carries a suspension of 0-10 days.
In regards to the two-year suspension, Churchill Downs also weighed Baffert’s previous transgressions as a significant factor. Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a statement: “Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby. Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility.”
Watch the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 7 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app, and Peacock.