Confirmation of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed drug test was a boon for class-action lawsuits against trainer Bob Baffert. One lawyer told Casino.org Wednesday he’s received “a steady flow of calls” regarding his client’s case.
There are at least three cases against the Hall of Fame trainer and others that have been filed since the news first broke of a failed drug test last month. One of those was filed in a Louisville court against Baffert and Churchill Downs, which operates the race. The other two have been filed in California federal courts against Baffert and Zedan Racing Stables, which owns the horse.
It will be up to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) to determine whether Medina Spirit will be disqualified as the winner. That didn’t happen on Wednesday, as more tests remain, and possibly even appeals by Baffert and Medina Spirit connections. Even if that were to happen, it would not change the betting outcome.
All bets were graded after the race was declared official, which occurred just moments after Medina Spirit first crossed the wire.
Typically, cases filed by aggrieved bettors tend to be longshots at best. However, last August, a case backed by animal rights group PETA ended with a bettor getting a $20,000 settlement. They won against an owner and trainer of a harness racing horse that won a race, but was later disqualified because of a failed drug test.
In a statement Wednesday, PETA said it was referring bettors to lawyers who have filed lawsuits, but it is not part of any current lawsuit.
Horse Racing Bettors Fed Up
Lawyers for the bettors who filed the lawsuits said their clients want to see changes in the sport.
As part of the case in Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville, Anthony Mattera wants Churchill Downs to be barred from offering live racing until it can take several steps. One is developing a method to detect ineligible horses before races. The suit notes the drug tests the Maryland Jockey Club required from Medina Spirit and other Baffert-trained horses before letting them race at Pimlico Race Course on Preakness weekend.
Another calls for establishing a fund to pay wagers that become correct after a disqualification.
Mattera, a longtime horseplayer, made two $500 wagers on Mandaloun, the second-place horse, to win. He and his partners made numerous other exotic bets and believe they lost out on collecting at least $1 million in winnings on Derby Day because of Medina Spirit.
Will Nefzger, the lawyer representing Mattera in the local class-action case, said bettors have just accepted reckless behavior by trainers and tracks as part of the business.
“Mr. Mattera decided to finally stand up and demand change,” Nefzger told Casino.org. “He loves horse racing – and still does despite this – but he also recognizes the industry’s many flaws.”
Ideally, legislative and executive branches of government would step in and offer better regulations. But that has not happened, the lawyer added.
The lawsuit also includes Baffert, noting at least 30 drug violations over his career in racing. The suit seeks a judgment against plaintiffs for the winnings Mattera and others would have received if Medina Spirit was not graded as the winner.
Since filing the case on May 14, Nefzger said his office has gotten “a steady flow of calls” from interested bettors on the case.
Suits Seek to Hit Baffert “In the Pocketbook”
The Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act would likely address some of the issues at hand in these lawsuits. Once the federal law takes effect in July 2022, it will create a national standard for drug usage and do away with the myriad policies currently in effect.
Bill Federman is an attorney representing the plaintiffs in one of two federal class-action suits against Baffert and Zedan Racing in California. He called the federal law “a strong step in the right direction,” but he told Casino.org it’s not a cure for all of racing’s ills.
The way you cure problems like Bob Baffert is you hit them in the pocketbook… and that will catch his attention,” Federman said. “If he will lose more money by cheating, than he potentially can make by cheating, he won’t cheat. No different than a CEO of a company that’s illicitly selling drugs.”
The two federal lawsuits both seek to recoup the winnings they missed out on from the defendants. They also seek treble, or tripled, punitive damages.
The case itself has already damaged Baffert. After Wednesday’s news, Churchill Downs issued a two-year ban against Baffert and his associates from all of the Louisville-based company’s tracks. That means none of his horses would be able to run in the Kentucky Derby until 2024 at the earliest.
The New York Racing Association has also suspended Baffert indefinitely.
However, Baffert mostly works in California. For now, he’s able to race out there.
“Santa Anita Park is committed to integrity, accountability, and fairness in our sport,” a statement issued by Baffert’s home track late Wednesday read. “As it stands, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission – which is the governing body for horse racing in Kentucky – has not released all of the information, nor has it offered a ruling on this matter. We will continue to await action by the KHRC and will make a decision once their regulatory process is complete.”
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