Famed horse racing trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended by the New York Racing Association, disqualifying him from the last leg of the sport's Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.
Baffert is awaiting the results of a new test after his embattled Kentucky Derby champion, Medina Spirit, tested positive for the steroid betamethasone, which the racing association, known as the NYRA, referred to as a "banned corticosteroid," putting the horse's title into question.
Thirteen horses have won the Triple Crown, and the last two, American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018, were trained by Baffert. But a number have recently failed drug tests, which the NYRA cited in its decision.
NYRA President and CEO Dave O'Rourke said in a statement Monday that it is the association's responsibility to put the integrity of horse racing first.
"In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants," O'Rourke said. "That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing."
The final terms of the suspension will be determined based on Medina Spirit's Kentucky Derby investigation. The racing association said it will not accept entries or provide stall space to anyone employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables in the interim.
Gamine, one of Baffert's other horses, tested positive for betamethasone in September. Last month, Baffert successfully appealed his 15-day suspension by the Arkansas Racing Commission after two of his horses tested positive for the painkiller lidocaine.
Baffert has said Medina Spirit was treated for dermatitis with a topical ointment called Otomax, which contains betamethasone, setting off the positive drug test.
"I have been deeply saddened to see this case portrayed as a 'doping' scandal or betamethasone labeled as a 'banned' substance," Baffert said in a statement Saturday. "Neither is remotely true. Betamethasone is an allowable and commonly used medication in horse racing."
Veterinarians caution against overuse of betamethasone, saying it could mask serious bone and joint injuries and lead to deadly breakdowns. In some states, including Kentucky, no amount of the drug can be in a horse's system on race day.
Medina Spirit is no longer in the running for the Triple Crown even if Baffert is allowed to race in the Belmont Stakes on June 5, as Rombauer unexpectedly won the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. A horse must win all three of the highly anticipated competitions to hold the rare accolade, which often allows owners to sell breeding rights of their horses for top dollar.
This is a developing story; please check back for updates.