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Bob Baffert’s suspension by Churchill Downs is extended through 2024

Describing Bob Baffert as a “threat to the safety and integrity of racing” at their tracks, Churchill Downs officials announced Monday that they are extending the famed trainer’s suspension through 2024.

Baffert was originally given a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) in 2021 after a horse he trained, Medina Spirit, won that year’s Kentucky Derby but was subsequently disqualified after testing positive twice for betamethasone, a banned substance. Baffert initially denied Medina Spirit was administered betamethasone, then offered other explanations before acknowledging that the substance was in an antifungal ointment used to treat the horse.

After Baffert was also suspended for 90 days last year by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, operators of the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes honored the ban and held him out of their races. Baffert returned to Triple Crown competition in May with a Preakness win by one of his horses, National Treasure. The victory, Baffert’s eighth in the Baltimore event, was marred by the on-track euthanasia of another of his horses in an earlier race.

Later in May, a U.S. District Court judge upheld the two-year suspension by CDI, which Baffert had challenged on a due process claim.

In keeping Baffert from competing in the Kentucky Derby at least through next year, CDI said in a statement that he “continues to peddle a false narrative concerning the failed drug test of Medina Spirit at the 147th Kentucky Derby.”

“Prior to that race, Mr. Baffert signed an agreement with Churchill Downs which stated that he was responsible for understanding the rules of racing in Kentucky and that he would abide by them,” CDI said. “The results of the tests clearly show that he did not comply, and his ongoing conduct reveals his continued disregard for the rules and regulations that ensure horse and jockey safety, as well as the integrity and fairness of the races conducted at our facilities.”

In response, Baffert shared a statement in which he said he was advised by his attorneys that he was “permitted under the rules” to use the ointment on Medina Spirit, which he said was applied topically without the banned substance being injected into the horse’s joints.

“In no way does this involve a ‘disregard for the rules,’ ” Baffert wrote. “In the interests of the sport we all love, I have made no public comments on this unfortunate episode for an extended period of time so the suggestion that I ‘continue to peddle a false narrative’ is patently false.”

The horse racing industry as a whole has been under heightened scrutiny in recent years after spates of horse deaths at tracks such as California’s Santa Anita. Last month, CDI moved the rest of its Churchill Downs meet to nearby Ellis Park following the deaths of 12 horses, including seven in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, at the fabled track.

While those deaths occurred as Baffert was banned from CDI tracks, an animal rights advocate said in a statement Monday that the corporation “made the right call to scratch Baffert through the end of 2024.” Animal Wellness Action President Wayne Pacelle added that the trainer’s “long record of breaking the rules speaks for itself.”

A 2021 Washington Post study found that, since 2000, at least 74 of Baffert’s horses have died in California, where he is based. In addition, horses in his care were cited for drug-related violations 29 times over a four-decade span before the Medina Spirit scandal, per a racing commissioners association. Medina Spirit died in December 2021 after a workout at Santa Anita, in an incident attributed by the racetrack to a “probable cardiac event.”

“A trainer who is unwilling to accept responsibility for multiple drug test failures in our highest-profile races,” CDI said Monday in announcing its decision, “cannot be trusted to avoid future misconduct.”

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