Medina Spirit is going to run in the Preakness after all. Trainer Bob Baffert has a new person to throw under the bus. And thus, the attempted whitewash of a positive drug test that is likely going to cost Baffert his seventh Kentucky Derby title has begun in earnest.
After abandoning the ridiculous pretense that Medina Spirit was somehow sabotaged or a victim of cancel culture — yes, Baffert went there in multiple interviews Monday — he took another step closer to the truth Tuesday when he acknowledged in a statement that Medina Spirit had been treated for dermatitis with an anti-fungal ointment called Otomax up until the day before the Kentucky Derby. One of the ingredients in Otomax? Betamethasone, the steroid that showed up in Medina Spirit’s post-race drug test.
Meanwhile, officials at Pimlico agreed to let Medina Spirit and another Baffert-trained horse, Concert Tour, run in Saturday’s Preakness with some conditions including pre-race drug testing and monitoring.
You can see what’s happening here. Just two days after a revelation that will taint horse racing for years to come, the collective will of horse racing to hold Baffert accountable already looks like it’s teetering.
Assuming the split sample of Medina Spirit’s test also comes back positive — we won’t know for several days or perhaps weeks — he will be officially stripped of the Derby win. So what’s the next move in Baffert’s playbook? Blame the veterinarian, deny knowledge, shirk responsibility. Rinse and repeat.
“The veterinary recommendation was to apply this ointment daily to give the horse relief, help heal the dermatitis and prevent it from spreading,” Baffert said in a statement. “My barn followed this recommendation and Medina Spirit was treated with Otomax once a day up until the day before the Kentucky Derby. Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in Otomax is betamethasone.”
Oh, you were just informed? Tough break, Bob.
While there’s no proof that the ointment is what caused the betamethasone to show up in Medina Spirit’s system, this excuse is testing positive for high levels of equine excrement.
Are we really to believe that the most prominent trainer in America, a trainer who has been under severe scrutiny for the past year for a string of positive drug tests and who has been in this business for decades had no idea what’s in the topical medication being applied to his lone Derby horse up to the day before the race?
As horse breeder John Gunther of Kentucky’s Glennwood Farm tweeted Tuesday, it’s right there on the packaging for the ointment. A quick Google search for pictures of Otomax on several veterinary Web sites confirms that betamethasone is listed prominently as the second ingredient.
Given that Baffert’s filly Gamine was disqualified from a third place finish in last year’s Kentucky Oaks due to a betamethasone positive test, it strains credulity to accept that this was merely an oversight in the Baffert barn.
And yet, what’s the end game here? Where’s the accountability going to come from?
It certainly wasn’t going to start with the Maryland Jockey Club, which allowed Medina Spirit to enter the Preakness and thus avoided a messy legal fight that Baffert would have undoubtedly tried to launch. The primary condition is that Medina Spirit, if there’s no betamethasone or other abnormality in a drug test conducted Wednesday, will be allowed to run Saturday.
“TSG (The Stronach Group, which owns the track) and MJC cares deeply about the integrity of the sport,” Alan Rifkin, chief legal counsel for the Maryland Jockey Club, said at the post position draw Tuesday. “That includes also the integrity of due process. We’re very pleased to have that. We appreciate Mr. Baffert’s participation, and the way in which his lawyers went about it.”
Oh, you bet they do. Without Baffert’s entries, this would have been a historically weak Preakness field — maybe the worst ever. Now, it will probably be the most watched and discussed Preakness in years.
And to top it off, there’s a very good chance his horses will finish 1-2. Wouldn’t that be quite the image for American horse racing to present to the world in the midst of one of its most embarrassing scandals?
It’s clear the direction this is all heading. Baffert will be stripped of the Derby if the split sample is positive, he’ll maintain that he didn’t know what was in the vet-prescribed ointment, whatever punishment is doled out will be mitigated by the weak-kneed racing commissions around the country and he’ll be back at Churchill next spring with some of the fastest 3-year-olds in the world. Just like with every other positive drug test he’s dealt with recently, there’s always just enough of an excuse to scrape by — no matter how absurd.
True accountability, in the end, is going to have to come from within.
It was interesting Tuesday that a representative of Spendthrift Farm told the Daily Racing Form that it was transferring its Baffert-trained horses to other trainers. That’s notable because Spendthrift was a co-owner of Authentic, who Baffert trained to wins last year in the Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
But will others follow? We’ll see.
Until there’s a better system in horse racing for catching and punishing those who operate outside the rules, losing prominent owners is the only real consequence Baffert is likely to face. The rest of the sport, at least right now, just isn’t up to the job.