John Velazquez rides Medina Spirit to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs
John Velazquez rides Medina Spirit to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Image Credit: AP

Horse racing’s Triple Crown season veered into confusion on Sunday morning upon the news that Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby winner, tested positive for an excessive presence of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug permitted only in certain amounts. His trainer, Bob Baffert, said his training team had not treated Medina Spirit with that drug.

It hurled back into the mix of the season the recent-years, doping-related questions around Baffert, whose unexpected win with the 12-1 shot Medina Spirit on May 1 provided a record seventh Kentucky Derby win for the trainer.

By midmorning Sunday, when Baffert spoke to reporters at his barn at Churchill Downs in Louisville, officials had not disqualified Medina Spirit, with follow-up testing to come. Such results are rare in the long history of the race. In 1968, Dancer’s Image won the Derby but then officially gave way the following Tuesday, when the presence of phenylbutazone in a urinalysis tilted the win to runner-up Forward Pass.

Baffert promised an investigation and said, “They’re not gonna see betamethasone,” during remarks to reporters streamed by The Paulick Report. A filly he trained, Gamine, wound up disqualified from the 2020 Kentucky Oaks because she had 27 picograms of the same substance, above the allotted 10 in Kentucky. Medina Spirit showed 21 picograms, Baffert said on Sunday.

“Well, I’m worried about our sport,” Baffert said. “Our sport, you know, we’ve taken a lot of hits to the sport, and you know, this is pretty serious accusations here, but we’re gonna get to the bottom of it, find out. We know we didn’t do it, and that’s the thing. We didn’t have anything to do with this. I don’t know how it got in his system, if it was in his system, or a mistake. But we’re gonna get to the bottom of it.”

Just last month, Baffert successfully appealed a suspension and loss of prize money during a 13-hour hearing with racing officials in Arkansas, who reversed his 15-day suspension and restored the earnings of Charlatan and Gamine, who each won on Arkansas Derby day on May 2, 2020, then had those wins stripped because of the race-time presence of lidocaine.