Baffert Legal Team Optimistic After KHRC Hearing

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Medina Spirit | Coady

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A full 289 days after the running of the 2021 GI Kentucky Derby, the Churchill Downs stewards finally got around Monday to holding a closed-door hearing regarding the positive post-race test for Medina Spirit (Protonico). And while a decision may not be imminent, Clark Brewster, the lawyer representing trainer Bob Baffert, said he emerged from the hearing hopeful that his side will prevail.

“Upon an honest and fair-minded review, Bob Baffert and Medina Spirit will be fully exonerated,” Brewster wrote in a text.

As has been the case with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) since the running of last year's Derby, the hearing was shrouded in secrecy, which left many questions unanswered. Brewster said he did not know when a decision would be announced.

“How long is a string?” he texted, using a phrase that meant he did not know the answer and did not want to venture a guess.

Medina Spirit tested positive for the medication betamethasone.

Should the Churchill stewards decide to disqualify Medina Spirit, Brewster, Baffert and owner Amr Zedan would have the option of appealing the decision to an administrative law judge. It seems likely that's an option they would take in a legal battle that could drag on interminably.

At first Baffert denied that Medina Spirit had ever been treated with betamethasone, but then changed his story. He said the horse was treated with a skin ointment before the Derby to deal with a rash and the ointment contained betamethasone. The Baffert team subsequently had a split sample from the race tested and said it proved that the betamethasone came from the ointment, which meant that it was not injected into the horse, something that, possibly could have improved performance. The stewards may decide that it does not matter where the drug came from and that its presence in Medina Spirit warrants a suspension, no matter the circumstances.

“We are now left to trust that the stewards will apply the uncontroverted facts to the Kentucky Racing rules as they are written,” Brewster said in his text. “Medina Spirit was treated by veterinarian prescription with a topical salve for a skin infection. The Kentucky rules expressly permit use of topical salves and the treatment given to Medina did not violate any rule. The post-race specimen positive reporting 21 picograms of betamethasone was caused by the topical salve. The Kentucky Rules (and all other jurisdictions) restrict only Betamethasone Acetate or Sodium Phosphate (which appears in a horse's system when injected with betamethasone). These formulations are Injectable solutions into a horse's intra-articular joint. Medina Spirit was never injected with betamethasone and the evidence presented today proved that conclusively.”

Brewster wrote that Baffert has been treated unfairly.

“The false narrative regarding this case was sprung early and spread widely by uninformed or malevolent accusers and spread by careless reporting,” he said.

Even should the stewards decide to maintain Medina Spirit as the winner, Baffert could still be on the outside looking in when it comes to the 2022 and 2023 Derbies. He is under a two-year suspension issued by Churchill Downs and the track would be under no obligation to lift its ban if Baffert is cleared by the KHRC.

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