The Slatest

Kentucky Derby Winner Medina Spirit Fails Drug Test

Jockey John Velazquez celebrates atop Medina Spirit #8, after winning the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 01, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Jockey John Velazquez celebrates atop Medina Spirit #8, after winning the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 01, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The horse that won the Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test, putting the victory in doubt and raising questions about the tactics of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who has faced accusations of cheating in the past. If a subsequent drug test confirms the results, Medina Spirit will be stripped of the title. For now, Churchill Downs has suspended Baffert, who has denied all wrongdoing.

“To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner,” Churchill Downs officials said in a statement. “Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack.”

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Baffert, a seven-time Kentucky Derby winner trainer, held a news conference outside his barn Sunday morning to announce that he was told Saturday that Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid bethamethasone. The steroid is sometimes used to treat pain and inflammation and is allowed at certain levels. But Baffert said he was told the test on Medina Spirit detected 21 picograms per milliliter of the drug, which is more than double the legal threshold in Kentucky racing.

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Trainer Bob Baffert raises the trophy after winning the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, his seventh career Kentucky Derby win, at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Trainer Bob Baffert raises the trophy after winning the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, his seventh career Kentucky Derby win, at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Andy Lyons/Getty Images
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Baffert insists Medina Spirit was never treated with bethamethasone and vowed to hold his own investigation. “I got the biggest gut-punch in racing for something that I didn’t do,” Baffert said. “And it’s disturbing. It’s an injustice to the horse.” If Medina Spirit is ultimately stripped of the Kentucky Derby title it would be historic. In the 147 years of the Kentucky Derby, only two other horses have been disqualified after finishing in first place. And only one of them was for failing a drug test. In 1968, Dancer’s Image was stripped of its factory after testing positive for phenylbutazone, a banned medication.

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The victory of Medina Spirit was a big surprise as the horse has 12-to-1 odds of winning the race. And it gave Baffert his seventh Derby win, the record of all time. The positive test is raising fresh questions about Baffert, who now has had five horses fail a drug test in a little more than a year. Over the past four decade, Baffert’s horses have failed a total of 30 drug tests. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” Baffert said. “I know everybody is not out to get me, but there’s definitely something wrong. Why is it happening to me? You know, there’s problems in racing, but it’s not Bob Baffert.” For now, Medina Spirit is still expected to run in the Preakness on Saturday.

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Whatever ends up happening, this will inevitably raise more suspicions about Baffert and his tactics. And it’s bad news for horse racing. USA Today’s Dan Wolken explains:

At a minimum, this is now a mess that will likely take years to litigate and bring even more suspicion onto the most successful and controversial trainer in horse racing. At worst, a Derby winner being disqualified for a drug test — and particularly one from the Baffert barn — will be the ultimate told-you-so moment for the sport’s many detractors, who have long insisted that many of its most successful participants are chemists as much as they are horsemen.

Either way, this is a complete disaster for racing — but one that has felt inevitable for some time now given how ineffectively the sport is governed and the pervasive sense among bettors and fans that layers of bureaucracy and conflicts of interest have enabled cheaters to slither through the cracks.

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