Bob Baffert, trainer of doping-hit Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, said yesterday an anti-fungal medication given to the horse might have inadvertently caused the positive test that has jeopardised the victory.
In a statement released by Baffert’s lawyer and reported by US media, the famed trainer said his staff treated the colt with the ointment Otomax, which Baffert said he learned on Monday includes the substance betamethasone.
Medina Spirit tested positive for 21 picograms of betamethasone in a post-race sample, but the substance is banned within two weeks of a race, meaning any amount found in that sample is a violation.
A second test from the sample must be positive as well to invalidate Medina Spirit’s Derby victory and make runner-up Mandaloun the winner of the May 1 US flat racing classic at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
Baffert, who spent the past two days saying the horse was never treated with betamethasone, said the ointment — given to Medina Spirit once a day until the eve of the Derby — might have been the source of the banned substance.
“Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in Otomax is betamethasone,” Baffert said. “While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms 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.
“I have been told that a finding of a small amount, such as 21 picograms, could be consistent with application of this type of ointment. I intend to continue to investigate and I will continue to be transparent.”
Medina Spirit has been transported to Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore, Maryland, ahead of Saturday’s running of the Preakness, the second leg of the US Triple Crown, with the treble concluding at next month’s Belmont Stakes in New York.
Baffert said he will continue to fight for the colt with Kentucky racing officials, saying such small amounts of the anti-inflamatory substance would not have offered a competitive advantage.
“Medina Spirit earned his Kentucky Derby win and my pharmacologists have told me that 21 picograms of betamethasone would have had no effect on the outcome of the race,” Baffert said. “Medina Spirit is a deserved champion and I will continue to fight for him.”
Medina Spirit could be only the second Kentucky Derby winner in history to be stripped of the title for doping offences. It is the latest in a series of doping cases that have rocked Baffert’s stable in recent years, and leaves the Hall of Fame trainer risking a lengthy ban from the sport if confirmed.
Baffert on Monday told Fox News in an interview he had never cheated, and said his immediate suspension by Churchill Downs race course on Sunday had left him a victim of “cancel culture.”
Baffert told Fox that Medina Spirit had never been given betamethasone — which is legal in US racing provided it is not administered within 14 days of competition — and suggested the horse could have been accidentally or deliberately contaminated with the substance. Kentucky racing authorities last year changed the threshold for a positive betamethasone test from 10 picograms per millilitre of plasma to 21 picograms per millilitre. A picogram is one trillionth of a gram.
“There’s so many ways these horses can get contaminated and when they’re testing at these really ridiculously low levels — I’ve been saying it for over a year now these are gonna get innocent people in trouble and this is what happened now,” Baffert said.
“Bob Baffert is not stupid,” the trainer added. “That is not a drug that I would use on a horse. We don’t use that drug. The horse never had that in him. We have the documentation. We’re going to show everything.”
Baffert meanwhile said he planned to enter Medina Spirit in this weekend’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore. It was not clear however if Medina Spirit would be allowed to race by the Maryland Jockey Club.
The draw for the race was delayed for 24 hours until yesterday following Sunday’s doping bombshell.
Baffert meanwhile criticised Churchill Downs race track for suspending him following the drugs test revelation.
“Churchill Downs came out with that statement and that was pretty harsh,” he said. “We live in a different world. This America is different. This was a cancel culture kind of thing.”
Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit.
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