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Hall of Fame Trainer Seeking Ban Removal, 90-Day Stay on Suspension in Court

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert decided to go through with the lawsuit against the Churchill Downs Racetrack after threatening to do so in January unless his ban to enter horses at the racetrack would not be lifted. The ban was imposed by Churchill Downs as a result of the Kentucky Derby’s winning racehorse Medina Spirit failing a drug test in 2021. At the time, The Louisville-based company’s chief executive Bill Carstanjen told Baffert that he would see him in court. Now, it looks like the day has finally arrived for the two to meet inside a courtroom.

Carstanjen Accused Baffert’s Case of Being “Meritless”

Churchill Downs’ chief executive claimed Medina Spirit was not the only horse to fail a drug test, accusing the trainer that he had faced failed drug tests 30 more times in the past 40 years. Carstanjen called Baffert a repeat offender and called the potential lawsuit that was still uncertain back in January a fact-obscuring strategy used by the trainer.

Fast-forward to March, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is getting ready to reunite Friday the fourth in an attempt to establish whether Baffert should be given a stay on the suspension of 90 days that stewards handed him. Plus, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate also scheduled his own hearing on March 17, during which he will also take Baffert’s stay request into consideration. The trainer also received a $7,500 fine for the violation, accounting for his fourth fine in 2021.

Will Baffert Be Granted a Stay on Suspension?

Last week, Baffert asked the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) to postpone enforcement of his suspension. The suspension would prevent him from being able to enter horses across the country. The trainer appealed the decision taken by the racetrack stewards after a drug test showed that Medina Spirit had ingested a large amount of betamethasone when it won the 2021 Derby.

The KHRC denied his stay on suspension, and this convinced Baffert’s lawyer W. Craig Robertson to meet with Franklin Circuit’s judge. His ruling will allow the KHRC to “do the right thing” and decide to stay in enforcement of the penalty until the ruling’s appeal will be heard.

Provided the commission will keep denying the stay, the suspension would be initiated on March 8 and end on June 5. Provided Baffert is not given a stay on suspension, he will not be able to enter horses in his name at any horse track in the country during most of the Kentucky Derby prep races as well as the Preakness Stakes for the duration of two years.

Baffert Determined to Get His Racehorses Eligible for the 2022 Derby

On Tuesday, a second attorney hired by the trainer, Clark Brewster, filed a federal lawsuit against Churchill Downs, asking for the ban to be overturned. The lawsuit named board chair Alex Rankin and chief executive officer as parties. The lawsuit was filed on the same grounds as the 2021 lawsuit filed by the trainer against the New York Racing Association when Baffert claimed the association violated his rights to due process.

In the past, Brewster stated Baffert would push for a federal lawsuit in an attempt to see his horses eligible running in the upcoming Kentucky Derby. The attorney called the ban “arbitrary“ and “selective”. Churchill Downs called the lawsuit “not surprising” while reiterating their feelings of disappointment, once again calling the claims baseless and harmful for the entire industry and the reputations of the Churchill Downs and the Derby.

In 2021, a federal judge from New York ruled in Baffert’s favor, finding that the company failed to give him a fair hearing prior to deciding to issue the ban. However, the New York Racing Association held a hearing at the beginning of the year, and the decision on the matter is still pending.

According to the processed drug tests last year, Baffert together with his attorneys showed that the type of betamethasone that was found in Medina Spirit came from an ointment recommended by a veterinarian for treating a skin condition that the horse had at the time. They also added that the respective version of the drug was different from the version part of the drug guidelines for racehorses. This list includes injections that were given to horses no less than two weeks prior to the start of a race.

While racing stewards found twice the legal ally allowed amount of betamethasone in the horse’s system, they did not mention any difference between the ointment form of the drug and its injectable form when handing down their sanctions.