Baffert: CDI 'Appears to Misunderstand' Its Own Derby Qualifying Rules

Bob Baffert with Derby Trophy at Churchill Downs

Coady Photography

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Responding to a legal filing in which Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI), alleged that a court-mandated lifting of Bob Baffert's ban from competing in the GI Kentucky Derby would harm the connections of other qualifying points earners who would “lose their fairly-earned berths in the Derby to make room for Baffert,” the Hall-of-Fame trainer's legal team fired back with a written response on Friday claiming that CDI “appears to misunderstand its own rules,” regarding the qualifying system.

“CDI argues that an injunction would force it to 'reallocate' points and 'deprive' owners of their existing 'berths,'” Baffert's Jan. 20 filing in United States District Court (Western District of Kentucky) stated. “CDI's rules vacate points earned by Baffert-trained horses; it does not redistribute them.”

CDI, in its Jan. 17 filing that urged a federal judge not to grant an injunction that would lift the ban in time for the May 6 Derby, had brought up the issue of Derby points as an example of purported harms to others.

The CDI filing had alleged that an injunction and possible points reallocation would “retroactively” deprive “innocent third parties, who have played by the rules.”

The Baffert filing took umbrage with that position, stating that, “an injunction here would simply require CDI to recognize existing merit and permit owners to earn qualifying points under Baffert (rather than with different trainers), it would not take away from others.”

At a later point, Baffert's filing stated, “CDI fails to address how existing rules applicable to all trainers are insufficient to protect its qualifying structure, given that a condition of receiving points is compliance with that race's medication rules.

“In addition, CDI's decision merely to vacate the points awarded to a horse who fails a drug test in a Derby-qualifying race rather than to refuse the horse's or trainer's entry belies its claim that banishment is the only means by which it can protect its business and reputation when a medication violation associated with the Kentucky Derby occurs,” Baffert's filing continued.

The disagreement over Derby qualifying points is only a small part of a wider-ranging, much more complex lawsuit.

Baffert is attempting to reverse the second year of a two-year ban CDI imposed in 2021 because of a string of drug positives in horses he trained, including two in CDI's most prominent races, the 2020 GI Kentucky Oaks and the 2021 Derby.

Baffert's trainees have crossed the finish wire first a record seven times in the Derby.

But it was that seventh Derby winner-Medina Spirit-who triggered Baffert's banishment by CDI when the colt tested positive for betamethasone, a Class C drug, in a 2021 post-Derby test.

CDI told Baffert in June 2021 that he would be ineligible to race at its six U.S. tracks until after the 2023 Derby, and that any horse that raced under his training license would not be eligible to accrue qualifying points to get into the 2022 or 2023 Derbies.

Baffert had initially sued CDI on Feb. 28, 2022, alleging civil rights violations related to what Baffert said was a deprivation of his right to due process of law guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Separately, Baffert fought unsuccessfully in the courts to try and stave off a 90-day suspension for Medina Spirit's drug overage that had been imposed upon him in February 2022 by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC). As a result, he had to transfer his stable to other trainers and did not get to saddle any horses in the 2022 Derby while serving his suspension.

And even though that KHRC suspension has already been served, Baffert is appealing that ruling in an effort to expunge the violation from his record and to reverse Medina Spirit's disqualification.

Baffert renewed his court quest to run in the 2023 Derby on Dec. 15, 2022, asking for an injunction that would “work no hardship” on CDI.

The two sides have been trading court filings over the past week in preparation for a Feb. 2 preliminary injunction hearing.

The Jan. 17 filing by CDI had stated that, “Baffert refuses to accept responsibility for his wrongful actions [and now], as the two-year anniversary of his CDI suspension approaches, Baffert has renewed his motion in a brazen attempt to litigate his way into the 2023 Kentucky Derby. This belated, tactical, and meritless motion should meet the same fate as his prior unsuccessful efforts to challenge his suspension.”

Baffert's legal filing from Jan. 20 stated that CDI's written response “addresses claims and inferences that bear little to no resemblance to Baffert's arguments. In the select instances CDI attempts to address Baffert's assertions directly, it deflects attention to inapposite cases. Baffert's arguments are meritorious on their own terms, and CDI's attempts to lead this Court astray should fail.”

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