Baffert denies cheating, fights for Medina Spirit
12: 38 PM ET
ESPN News Services
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who is banned from the Kentucky Derby, is on a mission to restore two legacies — his own and that of Medina Spirit, who was stripped of the 2021 victory after testing positive for an anti-inflammatory medication following the race.
” I haven’t had the chance to tell you the story,” Baffert said to ESPN’s Marty Smith at his California home. “I’ve been waiting. We’ve been through all the processes. I never received my due process from Churchill Downs. “
Baffert, a six-time winner of the Kentucky Derby who has saddled 34 horses in the famed race, will not be in attendance Saturday for the 148th running. He also is banned from competing for the other two jewels of the Triple Crown — the Preakness on May 21 and the Belmont Stakes on June 11.
Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone after last year’s victory and was disqualified from that win in a ruling handed down this year. The anti-inflammatory medication is allowed in Kentucky, but it must clear a horse’s system at least 14 days before a race. It is classified as a Class C drug with a lower potential to affect performance. However, any detection on race day is considered a violation.
As a result, Churchill Downs Inc. barred Baffert from entering horses at any of its tracks for this year and through mid-2023. The 38 U.S. racing states operate on a system of reciprocity, meaning if an owner, trainer or jockey is banned in one state, the others will honor that.
“Who would have thought that an ointment, an ointment, took down the Kentucky Derby winner?” Baffert said to ESPN. “That’s not right. That’s why we’re going to fight hard to save the Kentucky Derby for that horse. He… deserved it. “
Baffert, 69, is suing Churchill Downs Inc. in federal court to end his suspension. He has failed in multiple attempts in Kentucky to overturn the track’s ban or the start of his 90-day suspension by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which began April 4.
When asked directly by ESPN if he knew he cheated, Baffert said that he did not. “
“It was a terrible thing that they made a big deal of taking my [Medina Spirit’s] name from the paddock,” Baffert stated. “And they took down my signs at the barn. Although it’s difficult to see, the facts will tell a different story.
“That day will come. Yeah. “
Medina Spirit died on Dec. 6 from what Baffert said was a heart attack after a workout. The cause of the death was not determined by a necropsy.
” I believe the most important thing is to preserve the legacy of Medina Spirit. Baffert stated that this is what he was fighting for. “And I want fight for the sport. The legacy of the sport. It’s a great sport. It’s on the rise. It’s cleaner than ever.
” I think people are getting the wrong information and that the word needs to be out. “
Last week, a hearing officer recommended a two-year suspension for Baffert in New York for repeated medication violations involving his horses that occurred in other states. If it’s approved by a New York Racing Association panel, Baffert plans to contest the ruling, which could keep him from entering horses at Saratoga in upstate New York when its summer season begins July 14.
Baffert, who has won seven Preaknesses and three Belmonts in addition to his six victories in horse racing’s marquee event, told ESPN that the ointment used on Medina Spirit had “zero impact” on his performance — “and you won’t find a scientist that will tell you [that it did].
“People were getting wrong information, and this was going on so fast,” Baffert added. “Everybody ran with a false narrative. Just ran. They continue to run with a false narrative. It takes time to change that, especially with the biased reporting against me. … I’m still working on that. As I said, it will all come together in time. We have everything. It’s all there. “
For now, Baffert said to ESPN that he is taking time for himself while he “deals” with the suspension.
” I’m taking this time to train, trying to get fit, and worried about my health, as everyone was concerned about me,” Baffert stated, noting that he doesn’t plan to retire. “I’m spending time at home with my family and my children, and maybe taking a few trips. I have never been on vacation and I have never been away from my horses for this long. “
As the horses enter the starting gate Saturday, Baffert will be “laying low” and pulling for two of those that were in his barn — Messier (8-1 odds) and Taiba (12-1) — and are now being trained by Tim Yakteen, a former assistant under Baffert who has run his own stable for 18 years.
“Of course, I’m gonna watch the Kentucky Derby,” said Baffert, who can return to racing when his 90-day suspension ends July 2.
“… I still have a lot more fire in me. I love what I do. I love what I do. “
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.