By T. D. Thornton
Bob Baffert filed a legal response Friday to the New York Racing Association (NYRA)'s recent attempt to dismiss his amended civil complaint, in which the Hall-of-Fame trainer is fighting an allegedly “sham” hearing process initiated by NYRA to determine if he will be excluded from New York's premier tracks.
The Dec. 10 filing in United States District Court (Eastern District of New York) rebutted and reargued a number of legal points that have already been volleyed back and forth by both sides since Baffert filed the initial version of his lawsuit June 14.
But one updated section lets the judge know about the Dec. 3 urine test results that the trainer's legal team claims “have confirmed scientifically” that the betamethasone in Medina Spirit's system after the colt won the GI Kentucky Derby came from a topical ointment and not an intra-articular injection.
Yet this new information about Medina Spirit's urine was imparted in the filing without any mention of the tragic turn of events that took place about 72 hours after those test results were made public, when the Derby winner collapsed and died after laboring through a workout at Santa Anita Park.
It's understandable that Medina Spirit's Dec. 6 death is not a legal point that Baffert's counsel considers relevant to the case, which deals primarily with allegations and incidents that occurred months ago.
But to a layman reading the court filing with the knowledge that Medina Sprit's untimely and sudden passing rocked the sports world and dominated the international racing news this week, it does come across as a jarring omission of context in the overall saga.
“Unfortunately, NYRA refused to wait for the results of the aforementioned testing or to otherwise allow the comprehensive administrative process which must take place in Kentucky to play out,” Baffert's filing stated.
“Instead, on May 17, 2021, prior to the initiation of any administrative processes in Kentucky, NYRA took the unprecedented step of announcing that it was immediately and indefinitely suspending Baffert from entering horses in racetracks that it operates, including Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, and Aqueduct Racetrack,” the filing continued.
NYRA had banished the seven-time GI Kentucky Derby-winning trainer 16 days after Medina Spirit tested positive for a betamethasone. But NYRA's stated desire to rule off Baffert goes beyond Medina Spirit's still-in-limbo Derby penalization status, which has not yet even resulted in a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission hearing.
In the 12 months prior to Medina Spirit's positive, four other Baffert trainees also tested positive for medication overages, two of them in Grade I stakes, and this has been a key plank in NYRA's argument.
On July 14, the court granted Baffert a preliminary injunction that currently allows him to race at New York's premier tracks until his lawsuit gets adjudicated in full.
But the judge also wrote in that ruling that “Baffert should have been given notice of all of the reasons that NYRA intended to suspend him.”
So in the wake of that decision, NYRA drafted a new set of procedures for holding hearings and issuing determinations designed to suspend licensees who engage in injurious conduct. On Sept. 10, NYRA then summoned Baffert to appear at an exclusion hearing.
Baffert first filed a motion asking the judge to hold NYRA in civil contempt for trying to schedule such a hearing and to stay the hearing itself. When those requests were denied, he amended his original complaint to try and keep that hearing process from moving forward (it's currently scheduled to begin Jan. 24).
When NYRA previously addressed the issue of the hearing in court documents, it termed Baffert's characterization of the process as “misguided,” noting that “Plaintiff s argument that he had no notice of the conduct prohibited by NYRA likewise fails given that common law has long recognized the standards and interests NYRA intends to uphold.”
NYRA had also previously pointed out to the judge that it was “providing Plaintiff exactly what he argued he was entitled to in support of his motion for a preliminary injunction–notice and an opportunity to be heard.”
On Friday, Baffert's filing contended that, “Shockingly, NYRA's Motion to Dismiss even asks this Court to dismiss the [civil action for deprivation of rights claim] on which Baffert has already prevailed. Baffert's Amended Complaint states valid claims for each of the five causes of action…NYRA's Motion to Dismiss should be denied in its entirety.”