By Bill Finley
According to a report in the New York Times, Bob Baffert has threatened to sue Churchill Downs and its CEO Bill Carstanjen if the track does not lift a two-year ban that will keep the trainer from competing in the 2022 and 2023 runnings of the GI Kentucky Derby.
The ban was put into place after Medina Spirit (Protonico) tested positive for the substance betamethasone following his win in last year's Derby. In addition, Churchill is not awarding any points to Baffert-trained horses who compete in preps for the Derby and the GI Kentucky Oaks. Baffert trains Corniche (Quality Road) who will be named 2021 2-year-old champion, and is the early favorite for the Derby.
The news broke at about the same time that a tweet from the Churchill Downs public relations department was posted that read: “CDI is committed to protecting the integrity and future of the racing industry–for the horses, our fans, our partners, our team members and the betting public. No one is above the rules, including Mr. Baffert, and we remain intent on holding him accountable for his actions.”
The Times acquired a complaint in which Baffert contends that his due process rights were violated by the ban and that his exclusion from Churchill Downs and the Derby is unlawful. According to the Times, Baffert is seeking a preliminary injunction that will allow him to race at Churchill and other tracks owned by Churchill Downs and end the practice of denying his horses qualifying points for the Derby and Oaks. Baffert is also seeking millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.
Generally, the courts have upheld the rights of privately owned racetracks to ban participants when the track determines their participation is not in the best business interests of that racetrack.
Baffert's motion has yet to be filed.
Carstanjen told the Times that Baffert's threatened case was “completely meritless” and that on Apr. 7, 2021, Baffert signed an agreement–as the track requires all horse trainers to do–that he would follow its conduct and medication rules.
“This threatened lawsuit is yet another tactic from Mr. Baffert's well-worn playbook of obfuscating the facts, inventing excuses to explain positive drug tests and attempting to blame others to avoid responsibility for his own actions,” Carstanjen told the Times. “We are considering any and all legal options available to us to set the record straight and ensure Mr. Baffert is held accountable for all the reputational damage he has caused us. The irony is not lost on us that despite all of his violations, he is the one threatening to file lawsuits claiming to be aggrieved.”
Carstanjen did not rule out countersuing Baffert.