By T. D. Thornton
Trainer Bob Baffert told a federal judge Wednesday that a group of bettors who are suing him in a class-action lawsuit alleging a years-long pattern of racketeering based on his purported “doping” of Thoroughbreds have twisted their case so far from reality that their alleged misstatements amount to libel.
In a Jan. 12 filing in United States District Court (District of New Jersey), Baffert stated that the plaintiffs' recent attempt to portray him as the “Lance Armstrong of the horse racing world” is a “desperate conglomeration of highly inflammatory statements…designed to create a smokescreen in an effort to get the Court to take its eye off the ball. This Court should not be distracted.”
Baffert continued: “No matter how much outrageousness Plaintiffs throw on the wall in the hopes that something will stick, they cannot avoid three fundamental black letter law principles that mandate dismissal of their Amended Complaint.
“First, this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over the Defendants. Second, as disgruntled gamblers, Plaintiffs' have no standing and fail to present a justiciable claim. Finally, each and every court that has considered Civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claims in the context of gambling losses has rejected those claims as a matter of law…
“Plaintiffs purposefully misrepresent Baffert's Hall of Fame record and make numerous libelous Statements,” Wednesday's filing alleged.
The original version of the suit, led by Michael Beychok, the winner of the 2012 National Horseplayers Championship, was filed four days after Baffert's disclosure that now-deceased Medina Spirit had tested positive for betamethasone after winning the May 1, 2021, Derby. Baffert, plus his incorporated racing stable, are the defendants.
Split-sample testing at two different labs approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) has since confirmed the betamethasone overage. But even after eight months, no KHRC ruling has yet been issued over those findings. On Dec. 6, Medina Spirit collapsed and died after a workout at Santa Anita Park, and his sudden death is under investigation in that state.
The class members of the suit have alleged that they were “cheated out of their property” because they placed wagers on other horses and betting combinations that would have paid off had “the drugged horse” not won the Derby.
The plaintiffs have chosen the RICO Act as a tool to try and collect damages. In addition, they seek an order from the judge stating that Baffert must divest himself from the sport.
RICO is a sweeping and powerful 1970 federal statute initially designed to combat the Mafia. But in a legal sense, it has long since lost its “organized crime” stigma. Despite the statute's original intent, RICO today is only rarely used to go after stereotypical “godfather” figures. Instead, RICO has evolved as a key component in civil litigation, and is most often asserted by purported victims of white-collar crimes, such as mail and wire fraud.
The class-action complaint was subsequently amended and moved from California to a New Jersey federal court. In previous court documents, the plaintiffs explained that New Jersey should be the proper venue. They cited a legal precedent that involved a case in which the act of simulcasting a race into New Jersey from another state “permits the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over it.” They also alleged that Baffert's purported fraud included his occasional starts at Monmouth Park.
Back in September, when Baffert first moved for dismissal of the suit, his court filing termed that switch from California to New Jersey “blatant forum shopping” because the new venue has “no meaningful connection to the allegations raised in their Complaint. The Defendants are all domiciled in California and the events detailed in the Complaint occurred entirely in either California or Kentucky.”
In the Jan. 12 filing, Baffert's legal team again asserted that the plaintiffs are off base in attempting to litigate the matter in New Jersey.
“The law is clear that there must be case-specific contacts with the forum state,” the filing stated. “That is not established by Baffert's rare and irrelevant New Jersey racing activities. Even if one were to accept Plaintiffs' tinfoil conspiratorial premise that Baffert engaged in a nationwide racketeering scheme to defraud individuals he never met, Plaintiffs would still have to establish that at least some of the alleged illicit conduct actually occurred in New Jersey. They have utterly failed to do so. This matter has zero connection to New Jersey and it must be dismissed.”
Baffert wants the suit thrown out “with prejudice,” which would mean that it can't be brought up again in another form or in a different court.
“Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint should also be dismissed because their claims are not justiciable,” Wednesday's filing stated. “As the Baffert Defendants have explained, there is no current case and controversy because 1) the entirety of Plaintiffs' claims rest on a speculative presupposition that Medina Spirit will be disqualified at some future date potentially years from now; and 2) their exact alleged injury is not recognized as a viable cause of action under both statutory and common law.
“Plaintiffs' state-law claims are equally doomed,” the filing stated. “Plaintiffs' fraud claims are not pleaded with particularity and they have not alleged, nor could they, that the Baffert Defendants intended to defraud them as gamblers and induce their reliance.”