Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will miss the Kentucky Derby next year after Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI), the organizer of the horse race and owner of the famed racetrack, extended his suspension through the end of 2024.
The decision was “based on continued concerns regarding the threat to the safety and integrity of racing he poses to CDI-owned racetracks,” the company announced Monday.
Baffert, who has trained six Derby winners, tweeted that he was at a loss to understand this latest action and said he has been “open, honest and forthright.”
The suspension stems from the disqualification of the Baffert-trained horse Medina Spirit in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance after initially being declared the winner of the Triple Crown race. Baffert was initially given a two-year ban by Churchill Downs in 2021.
Churchill Downs, which owns several race tracks in several states including, Louisiana, Kentucky and Virginia, released a statement Monday expressing its disappointment with what it calls Baffert’s “continued disregard for the rules and regulations that ensure horse and jockey safety.”
Baffert “continues to peddle a false narrative concerning the failed drug test of Medina Spirit,” the company’s statement reads.
Officials said Baffert signed an agreement before the race, attesting that he would abide by Kentucky racing rules.
“The results of the tests clearly show that he did not comply, and his ongoing conduct reveals his continued disregard for the rules and regulations that ensure horse and jockey safety, as well as the integrity and fairness of the races conducted at our facilities,” the company said.
Medina Spirit, who was a 12-to-1 favorite at post time, was first across the line in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. But a blood sample revealed betamethasone – an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid sometimes used to relieve joint pain – in the horse, which is not allowed on race day under Kentucky equine protocols.
Baffert said Monday that the horse was not injected with the drug and it was in a topical ointment used for a skin infection.
Churchill Downs officials said: “A trainer who is unwilling to accept responsibility for multiple drug test failures in our highest-profile races cannot be trusted to avoid future misconduct. Mr. Baffert will remain suspended from entering horses at all racetracks owned by CDI through 2024.”
Baffert claimed in a tweet that he was told the use of the ointment is permitted in the rules and the Kentucky Racing Commission has the Medina Spirit case before them.
“In no way does this involve a ‘disregard for the rules,’” he wrote. He called the allegation of peddling an incorrect narrative “patently false,” saying he has been silent on the matter.
When first suspended by Churchill Downs, Baffert filed a federal lawsuit. In February, a judge denied the trainer’s request to overturn the suspension and three moths later, the same judge dismissed his suit. Baffert had argued his suspension had a negative effect on his business and reputation.
Baffert missed the past two Kentucky Derby races. But in May, his horse National Treasure was victorious at the Preakness Stakes, earning a record-extending 17th Triple Crown victory for the trainer, who is third in all-time winnings.
Baffert had another horse, Havnameltdown, euthanized on the track this year at Pimlico after it sustained a “non-operable left fore fetlock injury” in an undercard race on the day of the Preakness.
Medina Spirit collapsed and died during a workout in California in December 2021. The colt’s Kentucky Derby victory was nullified in February 2022.