By T. D. Thornton
The Jockey Club (TJC) now wants to get involved in trainer Bob Baffert's federal lawsuit against the New York Racing Association (NYRA), which seeks to overturn his banishment from stabling and racing horses at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, and Aqueduct Racetrack.
In a June 22 letter to United States District Court (Eastern District of New York), Susan Phillips Read, an attorney for TJC, asked permission to file an “amicus” brief that she believes will “provide the Court with a unique perspective and information to assist in deciding the pending motion for preliminary injunction.”
Baffert was told by NYRA that he was not welcome to stable or race at the association's three tracks on May 17 in the wake of his disclosure that Medina Spirit (Protonico) had tested positive for betamethasone after winning the GI Kentucky Derby. That revelation by Baffert was later confirmed by split-sample testing at two different labs approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, but no ruling has yet been issued over those findings.
On June 14, Baffert filed a civil complaint against NYRA, alleging that the association-level ban violates his Fourteenth Amendment constitutional right to due process. He wants a preliminary and permanent injunction ordered against NYRA to prevent his further banishment from those tracks, claiming that if that does not happen, he will suffer immediate and irreparable harm.
The betamethasone finding in the Derby was the fifth positive test in a Baffert trainee for a regulated but prohibited-on-race-day drug within the past year (two others were for lidocaine, one was for dextrorphan, and another also for betamethasone). It was the third during that time frame to occur in a Grade I stakes.
While all of this has been going on, Baffert has also been embroiled in a long and complicated court and racing commission battle in California over whether to disqualify 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify from that year's GI Santa Anita Derby because of a scopolamine finding.
“TJC has long believed that horses must only race when they are free from the effects of medication, and vociferously advocated for the passage of The Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act,” Read wrote. “TJC thus has a special interest in sharing with the Court its perspective regarding the deleterious effects of improper drug use on the health of horses, the Thoroughbred racing industry, and public trust in the honesty of competition.
“Further, TJC, through its wholly-owned subsidiaries and Thoroughbred Safety Committee, has access to information not necessarily available to the parties,” Read wrote.
Read wrote that she has asked the attorneys for both parties for consent to file TJC's amicus brief. NYRA's counsel has given permission; Baffert's has not.