Equestrian trainer Bob Baffert suspended from fighting to save Medina Spirit legacy, denies cheating
Hall of Fame coach Bob Baffert, who was banned from the Kentucky Derby, is on a mission to restore two legacies – his own and that of Medina Spirit, who was stripped of his 2021 victory after a review. tested positive for an anti-inflammatory drug after the Race.
“I haven’t had a chance to tell the story yet,” Baffert told ESPN’s Marty Smith in an interview at his California home. “I’ve been waiting. We’ve been through all the processes. I’ve never had my fair share with Churchill Downs.”
Baffert, a six-time Kentucky Derby winner who rode 34 horses in the prestigious race, will not make it to the 148th run on Saturday. He was also banned from competing for two other Triple Crown jewels – Preakness on May 21 and Belmont Stakes on June 11.
Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone after last year’s win and was disqualified from that victory in a ruling released this year. Anti-inflammatory medication is allowed in Kentucky, but it must clear the horse’s system at least 14 days before the race. It is considered a class C drug, which is less likely to affect performance, but any level of detection on race day is a violation.
As a result, Churchill Downs Inc. banned Baffert from importing horses at any of its tracks this year and through mid-2023. 38 US racing states operate under a system of reciprocity, which means that if one owner, coach, or jockey is banned in one state, other states will respect that.
“Who would have thought that an ointment – an ointment – would knock the winner of the Kentucky Derby,” Baffert told ESPN. “That’s not right. And that’s what we’re going to do, you know, we’re going to fight hard to save that horse’s Kentucky Derby, because he… deserves to win.”
Baffert, 69, is suing Churchill Downs Inc. in federal court to end his suspension. He has failed in multiple attempts in Kentucky to overturn the track’s ban or initiate a 90-day suspension by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which begins April 4.
When asked directly if he was intentionally cheating, Baffert vehemently denied to ESPN: “No.”
“It killed me when they made a big deal [Medina Spirit’s] initials, in the yard,” said Baffert. And they took my sign at the barn. It’s hard to see that, but you know what, at the end of the day, when the truth is revealed… it tells a different story.
“That day will come. Yeah.”
Medina Spirit died on December 6 of what Baffert said was a post-workout heart attack. An abdominal surgery could not determine the cause.
“I think the main thing is to save the legacy of Medina Spirit. That’s what I’m fighting for,” Baffert told ESPN. “And I want to fight for sport. The legacy of sport. Sport is a great sport. It’s growing. I think it’s cleaner now than ever.
“I just think people are getting the wrong information, and from there need to get out of there.”
Last week, a hearing officer recommended a two-year suspension for Baffert of New York because of multiple drug violations involving his horses that occurred in other states. If it is approved by a panel of the New York Racing Association, Baffert plans to challenge the ruling, which could prevent him from importing horses at Saratoga in upstate New York when its summer kicks in July 14.
Baffert, who has won seven Preaknesses and three Belmonts along with six wins in the equestrian event, told ESPN that the ointment used on Medina Spirit “had no effect” on his performance – ” and you won’t find a scientist that will tell you [that it did].
Baffert added: “People get the wrong information, and it happens so quickly. “People are just running with a false story. Just running. They’re still running with a false story. And it takes a while to change that, especially, you know, anti-bias reporting. I’m still dealing with that. But over time, as I said, when we get to neutrality, fairness… we just need someone with common sense, fairness. by listening to this – and we have the facts, the tests. We have everything. That’s all.”
For now, Baffert told ESPN that he’s taking time for himself while “dealing” with the suspension.
“I’m really taking this time to train myself, try to get in shape, worry about my health, because people have been worried about me,” Baffert said, noting that He has no plans to retire. “I’m spending time with my family, the kids and, you know, take a trip or two. I’ve never been on vacation and I’ve never been away from a horse for so long.”
When the horses enter the starting gate on Saturday, Baffert will “set low” and pull two of the horses already in his stall – Messier (8-1 odds and Taiba (12-1) – and is currently being coached by Tim Yakteen, a former assistant to Baffert who ran his own stable for 18 years.
“Of course, I’ll watch the Kentucky Derby,” said Baffert, who could return to racing when the 90-day suspension ends on July 2.
“…I still have a lot of fire in me. I love what I do. I love what I do.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.