Medina Spirit was stripped of victory in last year’s Kentucky Derby and Mandaloun was declared the winner after a decision by state race stewards on Monday.
The Medina Spirit, who has since died, tested positive after the race last May for a steroid, betamethasone, which is legal in Kentucky but banned on race day. The positive test has wreaked havoc in the world’s best-known horse race and cast an unflattering spotlight on trainer Bob Baffert, considered the face of horse racing after guiding the horses to the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018.
Medina Spirit finished half a length ahead of Mandaloun in the race, giving Baffert what was then his seventh Kentucky Derby title. Baffert was then banned for two years by Churchill Downs following the positive test.
Monday’s decision by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission makes Medina Spirit the second horse in the racing’s 147-year history to be disqualified for a banned substance; the first was Dancer’s Image in 1968, a decision that gave Forward Pass the win. The only other disqualification came in 2019 when Maximum Security was penalized for interference, giving Country House the win.
Following the race stewards’ announcement, Churchill Downs released a statement declaring Mandaloun the winner of the Kentucky Derby and congratulating owner and breeder Juddmonte Farms, trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux. Cox becomes the first Louisville native to win the Derby, and Mandaloun owners will receive the winner’s purse of $1.8 million.
“We look forward to celebrating Mandaloun at a future date in a way that befits this rare distinction,” the statement read.
The track plans to replace Medina Spirit with Mandaloun on the paddock sign honoring the Derby winner on Tuesday. Mandaloun is set to compete in the $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday. The winner receives $10 million.
The racing commission also suspended Baffert for 90 days and fined the Hall of Fame coach $7,500 on Monday. The decision follows a Feb. 14 hearing that was closed to the public and media.
Clark Brewster, an attorney for Baffert, said he would appeal the decision.
“This decision represents a flagrant departure from the facts and the law,” Brewster said, “but the numerous public statements by KHRC officials over the past several months have made it clear that Bob Baffert’s fate was decided before we even don’t sit down for a hearing in front of the three commissioners, one of whom is directly employed by Churchill Downs as race director at Turfway Park.
The California Horse Racing Board said it would honor Baffert’s suspension at its tracks. He is based in Santa Anita, where he has already won some of this season’s 3-year-old prep races for the Kentucky Derby.
The CHRB also said it would honor any suspension or preliminary injunction if granted by Kentucky racing officials or a court.
Medina Spirit collapsed and died Dec. 6 of a heart attack following practice at Santa Anita less than a month after finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup Classic in Del Mar. An autopsy does not found no definitive cause of the horse’s death.
Baffert initially denied any wrongdoing after a post-race drug test revealed 21 picograms of betamethasone in the horse’s system. Baffert later admitted to treating the horse with a topical ointment containing the corticosteroid for skin inflammation.
Churchill Downs later suspended Baffert, citing a recent series of failed drug tests by his horses. Baffert sued the racing commission last June, seeking custody of remaining samples of Medina Spirit’s blood and urine for later testing to prove the steroid was not from an injection.
Another Baffert attorney, Craig Robertson, said in December that a urine test from a split sample showed the steroid came from an ointment.
Animal Wellness Action executive director Marty Irby applauded the stewards in a statement for taking action against Baffert, whom he called “American horse racing’s most infamous violator.”
“Baffert continues to drag horse racing through scandal after scandal,” Irby said, “and we call on every racing jurisdiction in the country to hold him accountable by making the suspension of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in their own state. We are thrilled Baffert is not competing in the upcoming 2022 Kentucky Derby and believe the horses will be better off for it and the event will have more credibility without him.
AP Racing writer Beth Harris contributed to this report.
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