By Bill Finley
Led by Michael Beychok, the winner of the 2012 NTRA National Horseplayers Championship, four gamblers have filed a Class Action Lawsuit against trainer Bob Baffert and owner Amr Zedan, alleging fraud. Each maintains that they made bets that would have won had GI Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit (Protonico) not been “doped.” The plaintiffs allege that Baffert and Zedan are in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the California Control of Profits of Organized Crime Act (CCPOCA) and for committing state common law and equitable fraud.
The suit was filed Thursday in United States District Court for the Central District of California.
When reached by the TDN, Beychok declined to comment and referred all questions to his attorney, Bill Federman.
“The horse racing industry as a whole has refused or cannot take steps that are necessary to protect the horses and the horseplayers from cheats” Federman said. “That's really the bottom line. Bob Baffert is known to have drugged horses in the past. Each time he said that it was an accident, that something was wrong, that somebody with steroids walked into the barn and sneezed. Can you believe it, the horse then tested positive ? Enough is enough, and that is the bottom line. If the industry is not going to police itself it's going to have to be further regulated or you will have outside groups forcing change.”
In several tweets earlier this week, Beychok touched on the controversy and welcomed gamblers to join in the class action suit.
“This guy Baffert wants us to believe that a horse in his care for the biggest horse race in the world was given an injectable drug without anyone in the barn's knowledge,” he wrote. “Are you kidding me with this? That's the best he's got?”
It was revealed shortly after the Derby that Medina Spirit had tested positive for a banned corticosteroid, Betamethasone. Subsequently, Baffert revealed that Medina Spirit was treated with an antifungal medication that contained Betamethasone to clear up a case of dermatitis and that he was treated with the ointment as late as Apr. 30, the day before the Derby. He maintained that he made an innocent mistake and gave the horse a medication that could not have had any effect on his performance.
The Kentucky Racing Commission has yet to take any action against Baffert and cannot do so until a second lab has tested a split sample.
In the suit, Beychok claims he made bets totaling $966 that would have resulted in payoffs between $10,000 and $100,000 had Medina Sprit not won the race. The other plaintiffs are Justin Wunderler, Michael Meegan and Keith Mauer. Wunderler claims he bet roughly $2,000 and stood to win at least $40,000. Meegan and Mauer each made small wagers.
In 2020, a bettor, Jeff Tretter, backed by PETA, sued harness trainer Robert Bresnahan, Jr. and owner J.L. Sadowsky for doping, racketeering and fraud after betting on a horse that finished behind a Bresnahan trained horse who won a 2016 race at the Meadowlands and tested positive for EPO. Bresnahan and Sadowsky settled with Tretter out of court, paying the Illinois gambler $20,000.
“The New Jersey case was clearly a shot across the bow for the trainer and the industry that apparently went unnoticed,” Federman said. “It's time for the industry to regulate itself. The industry has not been willing to represent those who bet their money.”
The plaintiffs maintain that they wagered on the Derby with the belief that there would be a level playing field and that none of the starters would be racing on prohibited medications.
“Bettors and members of the public expect that horses will give their best effort in every race and that all horses entered in every race will not be racing under the influence of a drug or foreign substance that has been administered in violation of racing rules and regulations,” the suit reads.
They contend that Baffert and Zedan committed fraud because they misrepresented to bettors that they had entered a horse that complied with all racetrack rules. The suit also points to the numerous drug positives racked up by Baffert throughout his career.
“The Baffert Defendants' acts are not isolated events; rather they are a pattern of events related to each other in that they have similar purposes, participants, methods of commission, and other distinguishing characteristics,” the suit reads. “Relatedness is also established by the fact that all acts were done for the purpose of winning thoroughbred races, including but not limited to the Kentucky Derby.”
Beychok is a partner and creative director at Ourso Beychok Inc., a Democratic direct mail consulting firm based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He has worked on political campaigns at the local, state and national levels. His victory in the NHC netted him $1 million plus an Eclipse Award for best handicapper of 2012.