Baffert Files Suit Against NYRA

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Bob Baffert | Horsephotos

Bob Baffert has filed suit in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, against the New York Racing Association charging violations under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution violating his right to due process.

The suit was filed Monday by Baffert's attorney Craig Robertson.

NYRA announced that it had suspended Baffert May 17, after it was revealed that Medina Spirit (Protonico) had tested positive for Betamethasone in the GI Kentucky Derby.

The suit reads, “Specifically, Baffert maintains a right to rely upon and use his New York State occupational trainer's license that was duly issued to him without limitation by the New York State Gaming Commission (the “Gaming Commission”); NYRA has, without legal authority, and without any notice or opportunity to be heard, attempted to indefinitely suspend Baffert's trainer's license issued by the Gaming Commission, thereby preventing Baffert from practicing in his chosen profession or using his state-issued license on state-owned property.”

When asked if he would be filing a similar lawsuit against Churchill Downs, which has also banned the trainer, Baffert's attorney Craig Robertson said he was not representing Baffert on any legal issues related to Churchill Downs. He declined to comment further.

In the suit, Baffert seeks, among other things, a declaration that NYRA is prohibited from denying horses he owns or trains from entering races at NYRA tracks, denying him the privileges of the grounds, and denying him stall space. He is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction from NYRA from further banning him from the tracks, and says that if that does not happen, he will suffer immediate and irreparable harm.

Attachments to the suit include a letter sent to Baffert from NYRA May 17 outlining the reasons for the suspension. The letter, signed by NYRA President and CEO David O'Rourke, reads, “NYRA has determined that the best interests of Thoroughbred racing compel the temporary suspension of your entering horses in races and occupying stall space at our racetracks. To do otherwise would compromise NYRA's investment in its operations as well as the public's perception of Thoroughbred racing generally.”

The letter says that NYRA would make a final determination on the length and the terms of the suspension in the future “based on information revealed during the course of the ongoing investigation in Kentucky.”

The suit makes a distinction between NYRA and other private entities.

“NYRA is a not-for-profit franchised corporation created by the State of New York. However, unlike other state-created not-for-profit corporations, the existence and operation of NYRA is specifically governed by the New York law that grants it the exclusive franchise to conduct live Thoroughbred racing and simulcasting at the state-owned racetracks on behalf of the state, from which the state derives substantial revenue.”

The suit continues, “NYRA controls the operation of all major Thoroughbred racetracks within the State of New York and operates as an effective monopoly. NYRA does not have the legal authority to suspend Baffert–that rests solely with the Gaming Commission as the entity that issued his occupational license–a license that affords Baffert a property interest under state law sufficient to invoke due process protections. Despite this fact, by purporting to summarily and indefinitely suspend Baffert from all NYRA tracks, NYRA has essentially barred Baffert from exercising his professional and State-issued trainer's license anywhere in the State of New York. Additionally, NYRA has purported to suspend Baffert and the use of his license without any notice or opportunity to be heard in violation of due process. Lastly, by connecting Baffert's “suspension” to the Kentucky investigation, which is likely to go on for years, NYRA has correspondingly banned Baffert from participating in New York racing for several years.”

In response to Baffert's lawsuit, NYRA's Senior Director of Communications Patrick McKenna, issued the following a statement.

“On May 17, the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) temporarily suspended Bob Baffert from entering horses in races and occupying stall space at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack. NYRA took this action to protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants following Mr. Baffert's public acknowledgement that the Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, a banned corticosteroid. In making the determination to temporarily suspend Mr. Baffert, NYRA took into account the fact that other horses trained by Mr. Baffert have failed drug tests in the recent past, resulting in the assessment of penalties against him by Thoroughbred racing regulators in Kentucky, California, and Arkansas. NYRA will vigorously defend the action it has taken in this matter.”

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