Legendary trainer Bob Baffert was temporarily suspended from entering horses in New York on Monday afternoon – likely eliminating him and his Kentucky Derby-winning horse, Medina Spirt, from the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel in racing’s Triple Crown.
The decision by the New York Racing Association comes on the heels of Baffert and Medina Spirit’s positive test for betamethasone in the derby. As a result, Baffert is prohibited from occupying stall space at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, and Aqueduct Racetrack. The Belmont Stakes take place on June 5.
While no Triple Crown is at stake since Medina Spirt finished third in last Saturday’s Preakness Stakes – after agreeing to a series of tests allowing Spirit to run the race – Baffert and his horse could very well miss out on a hefty payday. The Belmont Stakes carries a $1.5 million purse and Baffert is no stranger to the Belmont’s winner circle having won the race three times including with two Triple Crown winners – American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018.
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The NYRA will determine the length of Baffert’s suspension based on the results of his ongoing investigation in Kentucky, including Medina Spirit’s post-race testing including a spit-sample. If a split sample proves positive it would trigger a disqualification, as well as a loss of purse money. In addition, Derby runner-up Mandaloun would be declared the winner.
“In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants,” Dave O’Rourke, the NYRA President and CEO, said in a statement. “That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”
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According to the NYRA, Baffert’s previous penalties in Kentucky, California, and Arkansas were also taken into consideration. They will make a final determination about the length and terms of the suspension once Medina Spirit’s second test is revealed.
On May 9, Baffert said that 21 picograms of the corticosteroid showed up in Medina Spirit’s blood sample. The drug is used to help a horse’s joints. The following day, Baffert said that an ointment was used leading up to the Kentucky Derby to treat the horse for a skin condition.
Medina Spirit finished in third place in Saturday’s Preakness race after Maryland officials required Medina Spirit and other Baffert-trained Preakness runners Concert Tour, and Beautiful Gift underwent three rounds of prerace testing before they would be allowed to run. All three passed and were cleared to race.
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Concert Tour came in ninth in the Preakness on Saturday. Beautiful Gift was seventh in the Black-Eyed Susan on Friday.
As of Monday, Baffert has had five violations involving impermissible levels of medication in his horses over the past 13 months. He was fined in Kentucky and Arkansas and avoided a suspension in Arkansas following an appeal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.