After nine months, numerous fits and starts and several legal challenges, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards disqualified Medina Spirit as winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. The Monday decision came as a result of Medina Spirit failing a drug test for the banned-on-race day, anti-inflammatory betamethasone.

Medina Spirit-Mandaloun Derby DQ
Medina Spirit’s half-length victory over Mandaloun in last year’s Kentucky Derby was overturned Monday. Mandaloun was declared the official winner after Medina Spirit was disqualified for a drug violation. (Image: Coady Photography)

Along with the ruling, Medina Spirit’s trainer Bob Baffert was suspended from racing in Kentucky for 90 days and fined $7,500. That suspension begins March 8 and runs through June 5. He’s already banned from racing at Churchill Downs through the 2023 Spring Meet, which takes the Hall of Fame trainer out of this year’s and next year’s Derbies.

The decision can be appealed to the full KHRC. Clark Brewster, one of Baffert’s attorneys, emailed a statement to OG News saying this is a given.

“We are disappointed by the Commission’s ruling, but not surprised,” Brewster’s statement read. “This ruling represents an egregious departure from both the facts and the law, but the numerous public statements by KHRC officials over the last several months have made perfectly clear that Bob Baffert’s fate was decided before we ever sat down for a hearing before the three stewards, one of whom is directly employed by Churchill Downs as the racing director at Turfway Park. We will appeal, and we will prevail when the facts and rules are presented to detached, neutral decisionmakers.”

This may go beyond taking down a Derby winner

If the suspension holds, Baffert could be prohibited from racing in not only Kentucky, but other tracks across the country. That includes his home base of Santa Anita Park, because while regulatory decisions in one state do not typically affect other states, those jurisdictions usually are honored under reciprocity agreements.

Last June, Santa Anita’s parent company, 1/ST Racing, issued a statement saying it was waiting for the KHRC to act before making a decision.

The ruling means Mandaloun – currently in Saudi Arabia for Saturday’s Saudi Cup — becomes the 2021 Derby champion. He finished a half-length behind Medina Spirit in the May 1 Derby. It also vaults Hot Rod Charlie to second, Essential Quality to third and O Besos to fourth. At the same time, it drops the late Medina Spirit to last in the 19-horse field. This gives trainer Brad Cox his first Kentucky Derby victory.

Mandaloun becomes your 2021 Derby champion

In a statement that did not mention Medina Spirit, Churchill Downs said, “Today Churchill Downs recognizes Mandaloun as the winner of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby and extends our congratulations to owner/breeder Juddmonte, trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux. Winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting achievements in sports and we look forward to celebrating Mandaloun on a future date in a way that is fitting of this rare distinction.”

After initially denying Medina Spirit received betamethasone, Baffert doubled back and maintained the colt’s positive test came as a result of treatment for a skin rash with the anti-fungal ointment Otomax. Baffert said that treatment began after last year’s Santa Anita Derby. He and his legal team said that testing supports their claim that the betamethasone came about due to that ointment and not an injection.

But the KHRC in their Zoom hearing last week held firm to its contention there is no difference between the two. Kentucky lists betamethasone is a Class C substance. That means it has “a lesser potential to influence performance” compared to Class A or Class B substances. Regardless, it is banned on race days and the KHRC’s recommended penalties for such a violation fit the ruling here.

Brewster: trace amount couldn’t have affected race outcome

Brewster maintained the variant of betamethasone — betamethasone valerate — was a permitted substance. The statement said that because it wasn’t injected and because it was administered by a veterinarian who reported the treatment to a national medication database, there was no violation.

Part of the statement read, “The unrefuted and undisputed facts established at the hearing were: (1) Medina Spirit was treated with an ointment, not an injection; (2) the trace amount of betamethasone detected could not have affected the horse in any way; and (3) the trace amount of betamethasone detected could not possibly have affected the outcome of the race.”

Along with that, the stewards took Baffert’s recent drug violation history into account. The official ruling mentioned “fourth medication violation in 365 days in any racing jurisdiction.” Along with his suspension from Churchill Downs and now Kentucky, Baffert just finished a hearing from the New York Racing Association that puts his future in that jurisdiction into doubt. A ruling has yet to come down.

First Dancer’s Image, now Medina Spirit

This is the second disqualification for drug violations in Derby history. The first came in 1968, when Dancer’s Image was taken down after testing positive for phenylbutazone. Forward Pass became the winner.

Three years ago, Maximum Security was disqualified after a 22-minute hearing when stewards ruled he interfered with War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Country House in the top of the stretch. Country House was ruled the winner.

Medina Spirit died of an apparent heart attack after a Dec. 6 workout at Santa Anita Park. The cause of his death remains unknown after an extensive necropsy could not pinpoint the exact cause of death.