By T. D. Thornton
In response to an order from a federal judge for trainer Bob Baffert to reveal specifically which of his existing clients have told him they may pull horses from his care if his banishment by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) is allowed to continue, Baffert's legal team on Friday provided the court with a list of five Thoroughbred owners who are allegedly considering splitting with the Hall of Fame conditioner.
According to a one-page letter filed electronically by attorney W. Craig Robertson just minutes before the judge's mandated noon (Eastern) deadline July 9, those on-the-verge owners are “Gavin Murphy of SF Bloodstock; Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing; Peter Fluor of Speedway Stable; Sol Kumin of Madaket Stables; and George Bolton.”
That disclosure comes on the heels of Baffert's publicly documented breakup with WinStar Farm, which has already pulled such elite-level Thoroughbreds as 'TDN Rising Star' Life Is Good (Into Mischief) and Country Grammer (Tonalist) from his California-based stable.
In a July 7 affidavit, Baffert stated that WinStar's reassigning of those horses was a “harm” that has “already occurred as a result of NYRA's ban,” and that “WinStar's move has and will continue to have the added effect of possibly encouraging other notable owners to do the same.”
Baffert's inability to pursue his chosen livelihood at New York's major Thoroughbred tracks is likely to be a key deciding factor in his lawsuit against NYRA in United States District Court (Eastern District of New York).
In a civil complaint filed by Baffert June 14, the seven-time
GI Kentucky Derby-winning trainer is alleging that NYRA's banishment of him since May 17 violates his Fourteenth Amendment constitutional right to due process, and Baffert wants the court to overturn that ban.
NYRA's exclusion of Baffert from Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack was mandated the association in the wake of five positive drug tests in horses Baffert has trained over the last 12 months.
Three of those violations occurred in Grade I stakes. The most recent drug positive, for betamethasone in Medina Spirit (Protonico) after that Baffert trainee won the May 1 Kentucky Derby, has yet to be adjudicated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Churchill Downs Inc., however, has already barred Baffert from participating at any of the gaming corporation's five Thoroughbred tracks for a period of two years.
Judge Carol Bagley Amon's mandate for Baffert to assign specific names to his written claim that “I have recently had conversations with other owners who have stated that they may move their horses to other trainers if the New York suspension continues,” arose out of a back-and-forth verbal dispute between parties in a July 8 court conference call.
On Thursday, counsel for NYRA had argued that the plaintiff's 434-page “memorandum in further support of a preliminary injunction,” which was filed with the court only five days prior to a July 12 hearing for the case, violated established legal procedure because it included new information that the NYRA did not have time to investigate.
NYRA had already filed its own memo in opposition to overturning its ban on June 30, and on Thursday wanted the plaintiff's entire July 7 reply filing (or at least Baffert's affidavit included within) to be stricken or disregarded.
The judge denied NYRA's oral motion to strike Baffert's reply affidavit, but Amon did order Baffert to divulge the identities of the clients who were allegedly ready to break with him because their horses were being denied access to New York's premier tracks.
Amon had also recommended on Thursday that Baffert be in her New York courtroom for Monday's 11 a.m. hearing in case he is needed to testify under oath.