Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is headed back to California Tuesday instead of traveling to Baltimore, Maryland, for The Preakness Stakes after a weekend that included his suspension from Churchill Downs.
His Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit and stablemate Concert Tour are at The Pimlico Race Course, but they will not see their trainer for the second leg of the Triple Crown and may not get to race at all.
Entries will be taken and the field drawn for The Preakness Tuesday, but it remains to be seen if Baffert’s horses will be allowed to participate after he was suspended indefinitely by Churchill Downs for Medina Spirit having a positive drug test after winning The Run for the Roses. If Pimlico honors the suspension, Baffert, and his horses, are out.
Baffert spent much of Monday doing interviews, making his case he’s been wrongly accused.
“I didn’t do anything Fred, when you’re innocent, in this game you are guilty until you are proven innocent,” Baffert said.
Medina Spirit tested positive for trace elements of Betamethasone. An anti-inflammatory also used by humans — a steroid, not a performance enhancer. It’s a drug Baffert told me he’s never used on Medina Spirit and has veterinarian records to prove it.
Baffert said, “Now, I’m starting to feel a little angry, to find out what really happened.”
Baffert won his record setting seventh Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, a long-shot and his third string horse, but denies any wrongdoing.
“Anybody knows me, Bob Baffert, I’m not stupid,” he said.
Veterinarians at Churchill downs say if there was a willful disregard of the rules and a premeditated attempt to use drugs to improve race performance and knowing you would get caught, there are a host of choices of drugs that would be more effective. So how did it happen?
Among the theories, an innocent mistake by a barn hand, an inadvertent exposure from any of a countless number of people, somewhere in the food chain between the barn, The Kentucky Derby, and the testing barn afterwards. Baffert says, “I’m not responsible after they leave my barn, there’s a lot of contact.”
If Medina Spirit’s second test is also positive, Baffert is likely to file an injunction in federal court to block any actions against him until he can get due process. In the meantime, his way of making a living, his reputation and his legacy hang in the balance.
And all of this is happening as the sport desperately tries to recover from a huge black eye to its image on its biggest day of the year with a public already jaded by the sport’s ongoing problems with drugs and breakdowns.