As Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was preparing two horses for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, he was notified that one of them, Medina Spirit, had tested for illegal levels of the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone following his win in the Kentucky Derby. As a result, Baffert has been suspended from entering horses in any races at Churchill Downs, and the Maryland Jockey Club is reviewing the case to determine what action they take, if any, regarding the Preakness Stakes.

Baffert held a news conference in his barn on Sunday, where he adamantly denied that Medina Spirit was given any betamethasone, even though the drug is legal to certain limits in Kentucky. The only horse still in contention to win the Triple Crown reportedly had levels of the 21 picograms, while the legal limit is 10.

What Happens Next

The trainer of the past two Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah, in 2015 and Justify three years later, indicated that there are some procedural and legal steps that he and Medina Spirit’s owner will pursue in order to address the issue. The first one is that the Kentucky Horse Racing Racing Commission (KHRC), which has yet to confirm the results, will conduct a test with the other sample, the normal process followed in the case of a positive test.

Baffert indicated that they would also ask for DNA testing to ensure that the sample that was tested is actually from Medina Spirit. They will also go back and review prior tests that are required for competition as well as potentially release documentation of all medications given that California requires of all racehorses.

With his recent success, Baffert is one of the most visible faces of the sport and indicated on Sunday that there were problems with horse racing that need to be addressed without making any specific references. He has been the target of past investigations and was threatened with a suspension from Oaklawn Park in Arkansas last year for excessive uses of other anti-inflammatory drugs.

In that case, as Baffert noted in his press conference, the issue was around the use and timing of the medication, not regarding whether it was actually given or not. He was definitely intimating that because of his success, Baffert and his horses were being singled out for suspected violations.

Baffert had his attorney, Craig Robertson, present for his comments, but the trainer was the only one to speak during the almost 13-minute exchange. He made it quite clear that neither he nor anyone on his team was responsible for treating Medina Spirit with any amount of betamethasone, regardless of what the testing indicates.

What Happens to Bets?

At a time when horse racing is trying to recover from the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and a 2020 Triple Crown that went by largely unnoticed by the sports world, any controversy of this nature is problematic for the industry. With less than a week until the Preakness Stakes, it’s certain that all parties involved will be working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

But what happens to grade betting cards? Do players that bet on Media Spirit now LOSE? Do bettors that wagered on second place horse now have a winning ticket? The answer is NO.

Most racebooks and pari-mutuel sites are not reversing graded tickets for this type of issue. Right or wrong, it’s the standard that has been set in the industry.

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Kevin Krest is the author of the PK Frazier series of four novels and the Beyond the Commentary blog with over 500 posts about the world of sports. Kevin covers golf, football and horse racing for and holds media credentials from the USGA, PGA, LPGA and Oaklawn Park.
As a media member, Kevin has attended and written in depth pieces about the U.S. Open, the U.S. Women's Open and several other LPGA and PGA Tour Champions events.