Medina Spirit the Early Preakness Favorite, But Baffert’s Horse Must Test Clean to Run

By | May 12, 2021

Medina Spirit, the colt whose Kentucky Derby win less than two weeks ago hangs in the balance because of a failed drug test, was allowed to enter Saturday’s Preakness Stakes thanks to an agreement reached between trainer Bob Baffert and the Maryland Jockey Club.

Medina Spirit Preakness
Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit walks out of the van on Monday that transported him and two other Bob Baffert-trained horses to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. An agreement reached on Tuesday allows the horses to run this weekend, provided they pass a pre-race drug test. (Image: Pimlico Race Course)

But just like that Derby win, Medina Spirit’s Preakness entry also is not on solid ground. Under the agreement, blood for pre-race testing was taken from the colt and two other horses Baffert plans to run at the Baltimore track this weekend. A failed test means that horse won’t run.

“The integrity of the sport is of the upmost importance to Mr. Baffert and by consenting to this testing regimen and monitoring he affirms his commitment and dedication to the sport,” wrote Craig Robertson, Baffert’s attorney, in a letter to MJC attorney Alan Rifkin.

There were calls for Pimlico and Maryland racing officials to follow the lead of Churchill Downs and ban Baffert from entering his horses for the time being.

Craig Fravel, CEO of Pimlico-owner 1/ST Racing (also known as The Stronach Group), said in a statement the company shares the concern about equine safety. However, the track also wants to follow established protocols, and since Baffert has yet to be sanctioned by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, officials let him enter horses with the noted contingency.

“We cannot make things up as we go along, and we trust that the competitors, bettors and fans will understand the importance of adhering to that principle,” he said.

Baffert Backpedals on Betamethasone Claim

Before the agreement was announced, Baffert made an astonishing statement Tuesday morning, claiming Medina Spirit received daily ointment applications that contained betamethasone, the anti-inflammatory agent that triggered the failed post-race test after the Derby.

Baffert said the failed test showed a finding of 21 picograms per milliliter. In Kentucky, the threshold is 10 picograms per milliliter.

On Sunday, when Baffert broke the news of the failed test, he claimed rather adamantly that he never ordered that drug for Medina Spirit. Tuesday’s statement backtracked those initial comments to an extent, with the hall of fame trainer saying an internal investigation determined a possible source.

Medina Spirit developed a rash on his hind end after his second-place finish in last month’s Santa Anita Derby. Baffert had his veterinarian check the colt, and the doctor recommended Otomax, an anti-fungal ointment, to contain the rash and provide relief.

Under the vet’s instructions, Baffert’s staff applied the topical treatment daily until the day before the Kentucky Derby.

Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in Otomax is betamethasone,” he said. “While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms (per millimeter) found in Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results.”

He added, though, that his investigation continues, and the acknowledgment does not mean he considers the initial test results to be accurate.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is also continuing its investigation into the matter. Should the split sample verify the initial positive test, then Medina Spirit’s owners may lose the $1.8 million in purse money and the colt could be stripped of the win.

Owner Stands Behind Embattled Trainer

While Baffert has received a lot of criticism within the racing community and from outsiders about the Medina Spirit incident and a record of alleged drug violations, one person who remains in his corner is Medina Spirit’s owner.

On Tuesday, an attorney for Amr F. Zedan issued a statement on his behalf saying he still supports Baffert.

“I have reviewed the picture of the rash and fully understand the need for care and the good faith intentions in using the ointment supplied by the veterinarian,” the statement read.

Medina Spirit the Morning-Line Preakness Favorite

The agreement was reached just hours before Pimlico officials held the post position draw for the second jewel in the Triple Crown. And despite the controversy, Medina Spirit was installed at the 9-5 morning-line favorite after drawing the third post for Saturday’s race.

Barnmate Concert Tour drew the outside gate in the 10-horse field and has morning-line odds of 5-2. His entry is also contingent on passing a pre-race drug test, as is Beautiful Girl, Baffert’s entry in Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan.

While his horses are in Baltimore, Baffert chose to fly home to California from Louisville, saying he did not want to be a distraction at the race.

Besides Medina Spirit, only two other horses that ran in the Derby made the trek to Baltimore. One of them, Midnight Bourbon, is likely to be a prime contender to the Baffert pair.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, the Tiznow-sired colt finished sixth in the Derby, but he was in 14th place with a half-mile to go.

Aside from the Run for the Roses, Midnight Bourbon has finished in the money in each of his other seven races, but his last win came in January in the Lecomte Stakes. His morning-line odds are 5-1.

The full field can be found here.

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