Baffert Takes Stand In NYRA Hearing; KY Hearing Next

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Bob Baffert | Horsephotos

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Bob Baffert testified for about 3 1/2 hours in Thursday's hearing to determine whether the New York Racing Association (NYRA) can exclude the trainer over alleged “detrimental conduct.” Much of the testimony consisted of exchanges between the Hall of Fame trainer and NYRA attorney Hank Greenberg, whose attempts to rattle Baffert were largely unsuccessful. The Hall of Famer stuck to what has been the narrative from his team since the issues of his repeated medication violations first arose–that each offense involved mitigating circumstances that explain why he wasn't deserving of serious sanctions.

During a marathon day of testimony, it was revealed by Baffert that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has finally set a date, Feb. 7, to begin to delve into the matter of Medina Spirit (Protonico) testing positive for betamethasone in the 2021 GI Kentucky Derby. Baffert said he was told of the hearing by attorney Clark Brewster. The Kentucky commission has yet to make any announcements regarding the date of a hearing over the Medina Spirit matter.

Typical during the NYRA hearing was the back-and-forth between Baffert and Greenberg on the subject of Gamine (Into Mischief) testing positive for betamethasone following her third-place finish in the 2020 GI Kentucky Oaks. Baffert has maintained that he gave Gamine the medication 18 days prior to the race when the rules only prohibit its use within14 days of a start.

“You ran a horse that was disqualified from the most important race for 3-year-old fillies in America, isn't that right? That is a very significant outcome, isn't it?” Greenberg asked

“That was an unjustified outcome,” Baffert replied.

Greenberg also brought up Baffert's announcement in November 2020 that he was hiring Dr. Michael Hore of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute “to add an additional layer of protection to ensure the well-being of horses in my care and rule compliance.” Hore later revealed that he never went to work for Baffert. Baffert said that the only thing that kept Hore from fulfilling those duties was the pandemic.

“You didn't do it Mr. Baffert,” Greenberg said of his promise to bring Hore on aboard. “True or not?”

“It couldn't be done because of COVID,” Baffert replied. “He was going to come in January but he couldn't make it.”

“Is that your way of saying, no, I didn't hire Dr. Hore?” Greenberg said in response. “You did not hire him.”

“He couldn't make it because of COVID,” Baffert said. “He couldn't get there until late spring.”

The hearing soon turned to Baffert's series of press conferences and interviews after it was revealed that Medina Spirit had tested positive. Greenberg alleged that Baffert's media tour hurt the sport because he brought up such things as conspiracy theories. For Baffert, his response marked a rare time where he did admit to some guilt. At the end of the hearing he said if he had to do it over again he would not have granted those interviews.

“I used the word 'cancel culture' and what I meant to say was 'knee jerk,'” Baffert said. “To say 'cancel culture' was a bad move on my part.”

But Baffert said he made such statements because he was under duress.

“I was pretty upset,” Baffert said. “That was just raw emotion, knowing that I did not inject that horse with betamethasone. I knew something was not right.”

When asked if he understood that what he said was harmful to the reputation of the sport, Baffert replied: “This was something that really hit me hard. This is the Kentucky Derby, the greatest race. This is a trainer's nightmare.”

Before Greenberg had his turn, Baffert attorney Craig Robertson led the trainer through a series of questions that included his take on what happened with Medina Spirit. Baffert reiterated his contention that the drug got into the horse's system not through an injection but through the use of a topical ointment, Otomax, to deal with a skin condition. Baffert, who, at first, said that it was impossible that betamethasone was in Medina Spirit's system, said he did so because it never crossed his mind that the drug could be present in a skin ointment. It's notable, however, that it clearly says on Otomax boxes that the ointment contains betamethasone.

Baffert acknowledges that the controversy has affected both him and his family and added that the horses taken away from him include Life Is Good (Into Mischief), who he called the “best horse training in America.”

“It's been rough and tough,” he said. “But it's one of those things where we know we have the facts and the truth. It's probably tougher on my children.”

The hearing started with testimony from Dr. Clara Fenger, a former state vet for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Robertson went through the various drug positives Baffert has been hit with and asked with each one if the drugs involved were performance-enhancing, able to mask any injuries and had any pharmacological effect. Fenger answered no on each occasion.

Next up was Dr. Steven Barker, the long-time director of the Equine Medication Surveillance Laboratory and state chemist to the Louisiana Racing Commission. Like Fenger, Barker said that none of Baffert's violations were particularly serious.

“There's nothing here that matches the rhetoric that has surrounded this case and the actions of NYRA,” he said. “None of this can be considered doping. None of this can be considered an attempt to affect performance. These are common therapeutics at extremely low levels.”

The hearing will resume Friday, with closing statements expected.

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