By T. D. Thornton
Alleging that trainer Bob Baffert “is the Lance Armstrong of the horse racing world” because of a purported years-long pattern of racketeering activity related to the alleged “doping” of Thoroughbreds, a group of horse bettors who brought a class-action lawsuit seeking compensation for damages over the result of the 2021 GI Kentucky Derby urged a federal judge Wednesday not to grant Baffert's motion to dismiss the case.
The original version of the suit, led by Michael Beychok, the winner of the 2012 National Horseplayers Championship, was filed four days after Baffert's disclosure that now-deceased Medina Spirit (Protonico) had tested positive for betamethasone after winning the May 1 Derby.
Split-sample testing at two different labs approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) has since confirmed the betamethasone overage, but no (KHRC) ruling has yet been issued over those findings.
The plaintiffs and class members of the suit have alleged that they “have been cheated out of their property” because they placed wagers on other horses and betting combinations that would have paid off had “the drugged horse” not won the Derby.
“The Plaintiffs here are not asking this Court to determine the outcome of the Kentucky Derby,” Beychok, et al, argued in the Dec. 29 filing in United States District Court (District of New Jersey).
“The stewards of the subject race will be the ones to determine the outcome of the Kentucky Derby. Regardless of the stewards' determination, Defendants have still harmed the Plaintiffs and will continue to harm individuals through Baffert's racketeering scheme. The Court is being asked to hold the Defendants accountable for the racketeering enterprise,” the filing stated.
In addition to asking the court to consider the Derby's potential pari-mutuel payouts as an assessment of damages, the plaintiffs, among other demands, are also seeking an order from the judge stating that the Hall of Fame trainer must divest himself from the sport. Baffert, plus his incorporated racing stable, remain as the only defendants after Medina Spirit's owner, Amr Zedan, was dropped from the suit by the plaintiffs back on June 23.
When Baffert asked the court to dismiss the suit Sept. 1, his filing stated that the plaintiffs “are a group of disgruntled gamblers who placed bets on the 2021 Kentucky Derby and lost.”
Baffert's argument stated that the bettors “attempt to do what courts across the country have routinely rejected: they seek to recoup their gambling losses through a myriad of frivolous claims. No matter how creatively the Plaintiffs attempt to craft their pleadings, they cannot escape the fact that every single court which has looked at gambling losses associated with sporting events has held that no claim can be maintained as a matter of law.”
The class action members begged to differ in Wednesday's filing.
“[Baffert] would have the Court believe that there is no injury because Medina Spirit has yet to be disqualified. The disqualification of Medina Spirit is inconsequential to Plaintiffs' causes of action. The [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] violations occurred regardless of Medina Spirit being disqualified. As alleged, Baffert entered Medina Spirit illegally [and] the Baffert enterprise has already successfully harmed Plaintiffs. Once again, Baffert has profited while the Plaintiffs have been robbed of their day at the track.”
The Dec. 29 filing continued: “Plaintiffs have stated causes of action that do not rely upon the horse racing regulations but instead are independent claims existing under federal and state statutory law and state common law. These claims are allowed whether they are allowed under the regulations or not. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs were obligated to follow the rules but side-step any obligation of Baffert's accountability.
“Baffert suggests to the Plaintiffs that if they don't like the rules they don't have to bet. But more to the point, if Baffert doesn't want to be held accountable under the laws set forth by the federal and state legislatures, then he shouldn't conduct an illegal enterprise of racketeering and fraud,” the filing stated.