Churchill Downs Bans Kentucky Derby Winner Medina Spirit's Trainer for 2 Years After Horse Fails 2 Drug Tests

“CDI has consistently advocated for strict medication regulations so that we can confidently ensure that horses are fit to race and the races are conducted fairly,” CEO Bill Carstanjen said 

Medina Spirit Kentucky Derby
Medina Spirit. Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty

Bob Baffert, the Hall of Fame trainer of Medina Spirit — this year's winner of the Kentucky Derby — has been banned by horse racing venue Churchill Downs for the next two years after his prize horse failed two drug tests.

Results of the Derby winner's tests were confirmed to the New York Times and CNBC on Wednesday by Clark Brewster, a lawyer who represents Medina Spirit's owner, Amr Zedan.

The horse had two positive drug samples of banned steroid drug betamethasone from the day of Derby in May.

Following the news, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen released a statement announcing that Baffert would be banned from any track owned by the company through 2023, effective immediately. Any horse trained by Baffert or by Bob Baffert Racing Stables is subject to the same ban making them ineligible for the Kentucky Derby.

"This decision follows the confirmation by attorneys representing Bob Baffert of the presence of betamethasone, a prohibited race-day substance, in Medina Spirit's bloodstream on the day of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby in violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky's equine medication protocols and CDI's terms and conditions for racing," Churchill Downs said.

Andy Lyons/Getty

The steroid is used for pain relief and horses may use it, but the drug is banned from being in the system of the horses on race day. A second test must confirm the presence of the drug.

"CDI has consistently advocated for strict medication regulations so that we can confidently ensure that horses are fit to race and the races are conducted fairly," Carstanjen continued. "Reckless practices and substance violations that jeopardize the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take measures to demonstrate that they will not be tolerated."

The CEO also stated that Baffert – who has seven Derby wins – has a "record of testing failures," which "threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby."

Five horses trained by Baffert failed drug tests this year, according to CNBC.

"Given these repeated failures over the last year, including the increasingly extraordinary explanations, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and responsibility," Carstanjen wrote in the statement, adding, "CDI reserves the right to extend Baffert's suspension if there are additional violations in any racing."

Medina Spirit's owner's lawyer told CNBC that officials for the The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) are allowing a third sample to be tested.

"If it was inadvertent contamination, that should be taken into account," Brewster said in an interview with the NY Times. "We're hopeful that reasonable minds and good-intentioned regulators can see what it is, and what it is not, and not have a draconian response."

As Carstanjen states in the press release, "The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission ('KHRC') has the sole authority to disqualify Medina Spirit as the winner of Kentucky Derby 147."

Medina Spirit Kentucky Derby
Medina Spirit and jockey John Velazquez. Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty

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It has yet to be determined if Medina Spirit's win will be rescinded from the jockey John Velazquez. The victory marked Velazquez's fourth Derby win.

The horses owner, Zedan, would have to forfeit the $1.8 million first-place check if the horse is disqualified, according to the NY Times.

A spokesperson for the KHRC told the outlet they are "not going to be providing comment or updates on the status of this ongoing investigation."

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