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Churchill Downs extends its ban on trainer Bob Baffert through 2024

The company that runs the Kentucky Derby said Baffert has been unwilling to accept responsibility for a positive drug test that disqualified his horse Medina Spirit.
Horse trainer Bob Baffert looks on prior to the Breeders' Cup horse races at Del Mar racetrack in Del Mar, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2021.
Horse trainer Bob Baffert in Del Mar, Calif., in 2021.Jae C. Hong / AP file

The company that owns horse racing's crown jewel, the Kentucky Derby, announced Monday that its two-year ban on trainer Bob Baffert is being extended through the end of 2024.

Baffert's initial prohibition from participating in races at tracks run by Churchill Downs Inc. had been set to end this month, pending review.

But the company said Baffert has continued to show disregard for the rules, regulations, safety, integrity and fairness of horse racing at its facilities by promoting what it characterizes as lies concerning a failed drug test for one of his horses.

"Mr. Baffert continues to peddle a false narrative concerning the failed drug test of Medina Spirit," it said in a statement.

Medina Spirit was stripped of the Kentucky Derby victory nine months after the 2021 win. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission confirmed that a laboratory found the horse had tested positive for betamethasone after the race.

The episode inspired the Churchill Downs prohibition.

Baffert has denied drugging the horse on purpose, and in a statement Monday he reiterated his assertion that a topical treatment administered to Medina Spirit may have led to the positive test.

He said racing officials are still adjudicating whether the topical substance — he identified it as Otomax — is allowed. His own lawyers, Baffert said, reassured him it was within rules.

"I have been open, honest, and forthcoming about these events," Baffert said. "In no way does this involve a 'disregard for the rules.'"

Last year he sued Churchill Downs in federal court over the suspension.

Betamethasone is a legal, pain-relieving steroid commonly used to treat horses, but Kentucky and other states prohibit it in any amount on race days.

Veterinarians say its overuse could mask serious bone and joint injuries and lead to deadly breakdowns.

In 2018, The New York Times reported that another Baffert horse, Justify, which had helped him achieve his Triple Crown sweep in 2018, allegedly tested positive for a banned drug and should have been disqualified from the Derby.

The Times reported that California regulators with oversight of the drug test took a month to confirm it, then concluded the horse accidentally ingested the banned substance, scopolamine, from eating jimson weed present at Santa Anita.

Baffert's attorney at the time said the report on Justify's drug test was sensationalist and "short on facts."

Wayne Pacelle, the president of the group Animal Wellness Action, said drugs like betamethasone have contributed to high-profile horse deaths at racetracks from coast to coast.

“Churchill Downs Inc., which has been under fire for the 12 racehorse deaths leading up the Kentucky Derby, made the right call to scratch Baffert through the end of 2024," Pacelle said in a statement Monday. "His long record of breaking the rules speaks for itself."

The company, which also owns or co-owns Arlington Park in Illinois, Ellis Park in California, Turfway Park in Kentucky and other locations, said it will re-evaluate Baffert's suspension in 2025.

Baffert, based in Los Angeles, has also faced suspensions from the New York Racing Association, the state of Maryland and Santa Anita, his home track.

Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer, is one of only two who have won all three Triple Crown races in a single year more than once. He has also won 17 of the three races that lead to a Triple Crown.