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Medina Spirit trainer slams 'cancel culture' after suspension for horse's failed drug test

Bob Baffert, Hall of Fame trainer and seven-time Kentucky Derby winner, also speculated that the horse may have been intentionally "contaminated."
Trainer Bob Baffert celebrates with the winners trophy after his horse Medina Spirit won the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on May 1, 2021.
Trainer Bob Baffert celebrates with the winners trophy after his horse Medina Spirit won the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on May 1, 2021.Jamie Rhodes / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters file

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert called himself a victim of "cancel culture" on Monday and pushed back on allegations of wrongdoing after his Kentucky Derby-winning horse Medina Spirit failed a drug test.

Baffert on Sunday revealed that the horse, which won the prestigious race on May 1, tested positive for 21 picograms of the steroid betamethasone.

Officials at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is run, said shortly after Baffert's announcement that he would be suspended indefinitely from the track.

The trainer on Monday lashed out at Churchill Downs for announcing his suspension before a more lengthy investigation could be done.

"I think it was just a knee-jerk, cancel culture kind of reaction," Baffert told Peacock Network's "The Dan Patrick Show." "They violated my due process."

A Churchill Downs spokesman on Monday declined to comment on Baffert's allegations, instead referring to a statement from Sunday: "Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate."

The drug is legal and can be acceptable in a horse's system at various levels, depending on the state.

However, Baffert isn't claiming ignorance of the law. He's flat-out denying that Medina Spirit was given betamethasone.

"The really troubling thing is ... is that the horse has never treated with that specific drug," Baffert said, "So we're at a loss for words, trying to figure out how he got contaminated."

A leading Kentucky veterinarian called betamethasone a "highly useful medication in the care of race horses," but said it has to be used sparingly for fear it could mask a pre-existing injury.

"Not only does it mask (pain or injury) for the horse, it masks it for all the people who are assessing the horse to determine whether or not it's appropriate for it to enter a race and run," Mary Scollay, executive director and chief operating officer of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, told NBC News.

"If there is a weakness in the bone, it is more likely to manifest (while running in a race) then when you're just wandering around eating grass."

A horse with weakened bones or joints, but galloping pain-free thanks to medication, runs the risk of a deadly breakdown.

"We want to be able to have the most accurate assessment of a horse's condition, his orthopedic health in order to make the most informed decision whether or not he should race," Scollay added. "And if there's (something) that obscures my ability to do that, that is putting that horse at increased risk and that is unacceptable."

Baffert insisted he wouldn't risk his reputation with banned substances and stopped just short of accusing rivals of dirty tricks.

"I’ve never been a conspiracy theorist," the trainer said on Monday.

"It just seems really strange now that here’s a horse that didn't get that specific drug. He was not treated with that. That’s mind boggling right there that somebody ... had him contaminated somewhere."