Remaining on the legal offensive, even as he keeps a low profile, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert filed a lawsuit against the New York Racing Association Monday. The suit claims Baffert’s right to due process was violated when the organization suspended him.

Baffert-NYRA suit
Bob Baffert filed suit against the New York Racing Association Monday, claiming the organization had no legal jurisdiction to suspend him. (Image: Charlie Riedel/AP File Photo)

The Thoroughbred Daily News first reported that Baffert filed the suit in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. The suit argues that NYRA has no legal authority to suspend Baffert, which the organization did on May 17. The NYRA suspended the trainer, denying him entries to its tracks for any of his horses or stall space. That came after Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, tested positive for excessive amounts of the anti-inflammatory betamethasone.

Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, filed the 22-page suit. In it, he argues that only the New York State Gaming Commission has the legal right to suspend the trainer. Robertson maintains in the suit that the NYRA is governed by New York State law that gives it the exclusive franchise to conduct Thoroughbred racing and simulcasting at state-owned racetracks.

Suit claims jurisdictional issues

Because of that, Baffert’s state-granted trainer’s license came from the New York State Gaming Commission, not the NYRA, according to the suit. Therefore, the suit claims that the NYRA doesn’t have the legal authority to suspend Baffert’s training license.

“NYRA has, without legal authority and without any notice or opportunity to be heard, attempted to indefinitely suspend Baffert’s trainer’s license issued by the Gaming Commission, thereby preventing Baffert from practicing in his chosen profession or using his state-issued license on state-owned property,” the suit reads.

In the suit, Robertson cites the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Via that Amendment, he claims the NYRA violated Baffert’s right to due process. He’s seeking a permanent injunction against the suspension and unspecified damages.

NYRA says it’s within its authority

Not surprisingly, the NYRA begs to differ. Patrick McKenna, the NYRA’s Senior Director of Communications, issued a statement defending the decision and the jurisdictional authority behind it.

“On May 17, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) temporarily suspended Bob Baffert from entering horses in races and occupying stall space at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, and Aqueduct Racetrack,” the statement read. “NYRA took this action to protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants following Mr. Baffert’s public acknowledgment that the Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, tested positive for betamethasone, a banned corticosteroid. In making the determination to temporarily suspend Mr. Baffert, NYRA took into account the fact that other horses trained by Mr. Baffert have failed drug tests in the recent past, resulting in the assessment of penalties against him by Thoroughbred racing regulators in Kentucky, California, and Arkansas.”

Legal maneuverings continue

This is the second suit Baffert and his legal team have filed in as many weeks. Last week, the trainer took on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in an effort to gain the right to further test Medina Spirit’s urine.

Robertson, Baffert, and Medina Spirit’s owner, Amr Zedan, claim that Medina Spirit’s positive drug test came as the result of a topical ointment, Otomax. They maintain in the suit that the application of the ointment — instead of Medina Spirit receiving the medication via injection — should exonerate the horse.

A split sample confirmed the original sample’s findings of betamethasone in Medina Spirit’s system on race day.

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