Urine testing of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit has shown that a steroid present in the colt’s system came from a topical ointment and not an injection, according to an attorney for trainer Bob Baffert.
Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone after winning the May 1 race and is facing disqualification. Baffert had said an ointment used to treat the colt for a skin condition daily up until the Derby included the substance. Betamethasone is a legal substance, but it is not allowed on race day in Kentucky, Maryland, and New York, home to the Triple Crown series.
Craig Robertson, Baffert’s attorney, said late Friday that testing of the split sample was completed by a lab in New York.
“It has now been scientifically proven that what Bob Baffert said from the beginning was true—Medina Spirit was never injected with betamethasone and the findings following the Kentucky Derby were solely the result of the horse being treated for a skin condition by way of a topical ointment—all at the direction of Medina Spirit’s veterinarian,” Robertson said in an email.
Robertson said the betamethasone in an injection is betamethasone acetate, while the betamethasone in the topical ointment is betamethasone valerate. He said Kentucky’s racing rules only regulate betamethasone acetate.
Robertson said the New York lab’s testing confirmed both the presence of betamethasone valerate and the absence of betamethasone acetate.
“This should definitively resolve the matter in Kentucky and Medina Spirit should remain the official winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby,” Robertson said. “Since May, Mr. Baffert has been the subject of an unfair rush to judgment. We asked all along that everyone wait until the facts and science came to light.”
An attorney for Medina Spirit’s owner, Amr Zedan, also confirmed the results of the split-sample testing by Dr. George Maylin, director of the New York Drug Testing & Research Program.
“The Kentucky Racing Commission has steadfastly enacted rules relating to corticosteroid joint injection and have drawn a bright line rule that no injections are permitted within 14 days of a race,” attorney Clark Brewster said. “Now there is zero doubt that the 14-day rule some thought might have been violated by the earlier, less specific testing is revealed as premature judgment. That groundless accusation is without scientific merit.”
Still to be decided, however, is if the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will determine that the test proving the drug was given via ointment and not injection could create enough doubt to get Medina Spirit’s positive test tossed out.
Trainers are held responsible for post-race drug findings, although Robertson successfully argued earlier this year that two drug violations involving Baffert horses in Arkansas in 2020 were the result of accidental contamination. The state racing commission threw out Baffert’s suspensions and restored the purse money while limiting his punishment to fines.
In the wake of Medina Spirit’s failed test, Baffert was suspended by Churchill Downs and barred from entering horses in the 2022 and 2023 Kentucky Derbies. He also was banned by the New York Racing Association from entering horses at its Belmont, Saratoga, and Aqueduct tracks.
Medina Spirit went on to finish third in the Preakness after the colt was subjected to three rounds of prerace testing to be able to compete. The colt most recently finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar last month.
Baffert has had five violations involving impermissible levels of medication in his horses over the past 13 months.
By Beth Harris