Embattled Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is preparing for another fight, this time with Churchill Downs Inc., which has banned the trainer from racing at all of its tracks, including its flagship oval in Louisville , Ky.—which notably hosts the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). The trainer sued on the grounds that his constitutional due process rights were violated.
The lawsuit was filed March 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky against Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI), CDI CEO William C. Carstanjen, and CDI Chairman of the Board, R. Alex Rankin, asking a federal judge to overturn Baffert’s suspension. CDI races until 2023.
The house suspension is separate from a 90-day suspension from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that is set to take effect March 8. Both measures were taken due to the post-race sample and the split sample taken at Medina Spirit after the 2021 Kentucky Derby which tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone, a banned therapeutic drug on the day of the race. race in Kentucky. As a result, Medina Spirit was disqualified from winning the Kentucky Derby.
CROSBY & ANGST: Churchill Bans Baffert After Split Sample Confirmation
Baffert began crossing paths with Churchill Downs when his champion filly Gamine tested positive for betamethasone after competing in the 2020 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1). In February 2021, the filly was disqualified from her third-place finish at the Oaks and Baffert was fined $1,500.
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Also in 2020, Gamine tested positive for lidocaine after winning an optional allowance claim race on May 2 at Oaklawn Park and on the same day, Baffert runner Charlatan, who won a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1) also tested positive for lidocaine. In both cases, Baffert said the positives were caused by contamination. The horses were initially disqualified from their wins, but the Arkansas Racing Commission later reversed that decision, but left Baffert fined $5,000 for each incident.
At Del Mar on July 25, Baffert-trained Merneith tested positive for dextrorphan after running second in an allowance-level race. Baffert was fined $2,500.
Then came the 2021 Kentucky Derby and the positive betamethasone for Medina Spirit.
“CDI has always advocated for strict drug regulation so that we can confidently ensure horses are fit to race and races are conducted fairly,” Carstanjen said June 2 when CDI announced the two-year suspension. by Baffert. “Reckless practices and substance violations that compromise the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take steps to demonstrate that they will not be not tolerated. Mr. Baffert’s record of test failures threatens public confidence in Thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby. Given these repeated failures over the past year, including explanations increasingly extraordinary, we firmly believe that asserting our rights to impose these measures is our duty and our responsibility.
In filing the lawsuit, Baffert’s attorney, Clark O. Brewster of Brewster & De Angelis, said: “The idea that Churchill Downs, which is not even responsible for regulating horse racing in Kentucky , could unilaterally ban a coach by an edict coupled in a press release without having the facts or any semblance of due process should cause outrage from any unbiased person.”
Baffert’s attorneys argued that Medina Spirit was treated for a skin condition with a topical ointment known as Otomax, which contains betamethasone valerate. They argue that the Kentucky regulations only apply to betamethasone acetate, which they say comes from injections and is not in the sample.
In June, during a court hearing in Kentucky before the urine sample was sent to the New York lab, Jennifer Wolsing, general counsel for the KHRC, said the ban on betamethasone was not “not differentiated” between creams and injections in the regulator’s list of prohibited substances.
The argument regarding potential forms of betamethasone figures as a major point of contention in any appeal.
“The facts are clear, and Churchill Downs knows them but refuses to acknowledge them,” Brewster said. “Churchill Downs are aware that the post race test report was produced following the use of a harmless ointment known as Otomax. They are aware that it was prescribed by the attending Veterinarian at Medina Spirit and correctly and timely reported to the data bank the day it was distributed. They know that no rules were broken and that the ointment could never have improved the performance of Medina Spirit. Maintaining the opposite is absurd. And Churchill Downs and Mr. Carstanjen knew full well that imposing his suspension, on the basis of zero factual or legal evidence, would give illegitimate credibility to a false narrative about Bob, creating pressure on the stewards of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to take action against him as well.
“We look forward to showing the court that this selective and arbitrary ban by Churchill Downs, Mr. Carstanjen and Mr. Rankin is illegal and unjust – and to ensuring that Bob can return to the winner’s circle in May,” Brewster added.
Medina Spirit crosses the wire first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs
A statement from Churchill Downs said the trial was disappointing but certainly not surprising.
“His claims are baseless and consistent with his pattern of drug test failures, denials, apologies and attempts to blame others and identify loopholes in order to avoid taking responsibility for his actions,” the statement read. “These actions have damaged the reputation of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs and the entire thoroughbred racing industry. Churchill Downs will fight this baseless lawsuit and defend the rights of our company. What is At stake here is the integrity of our races, the safety of the horses and the trust of the millions of fans and punters who join us every year on the first Saturday in May.”
ANGST & KING: Medina Spirit disqualified from 2021 Kentucky Derby win
The March 1 lawsuit attacks Baffert’s suspension by CDI on several fronts.
He accuses Carstanjen and Rankin of “arbitrarily and capriciously” appointing Baffert with a “baseless penalty in violation of Baffert’s procedural and substantive due process rights.” asserts that CDI unlawfully excluded a licensed trainer when that right rests solely with the state racing commission; and claims that CDI violates antitrust laws because of its national standing through its Road to the Kentucky Derby points system.
Due to the suspension, according to the lawsuit, “Baffert is unable to participate in the upper echelons of Thoroughbred racing and training, his horses have a reduced value in the national market, his training services have a value reduced in the national market and he is unable to compete for scholarships and prizes on the CDI tracks.”
The filing claims a conspiracy to restrict trade through “concerted and anti-competitive behavior” that targets horses trained by Baffert directly or indirectly with the “intent of destroying Baffert’s unique owner/trainer relationship.” The destruction of these relationships has the potential to increase the value of horses owned by Rankin and other directors/officers/agents of CDI while reducing or eliminating the value of horses trained by Baffert.” He also accuses CDI of possess illegal monopoly power through his ownership of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, and claims that he interfered with Baffert’s contractual relationship with its owners and employees by “depriving him of benefits, economic or otherwise, which he would have drifted had he been able to use his Kentucky license to race on CDI tracks.”
The lawsuit seeks to have the stay lifted with an injunction even as Baffert appeals the KHRC’s decision.
“Neither the public nor CDI would be harmed if Baffert were permitted to continue to compete in CDI races while a final decision in the proceedings before the Racing Commission is pending. CDI may take other precautions, including demanding pre-test, to protect its interests and its brand. In addition, CDI already protects its interests; qualifying points for any trainer are conditional on compliance with the rules of medication in the races where these points are at stake”, indicates the pursuit.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and treble damages, which are allowed by federal law for antitrust violations and would be determined at trial, plus compensation for attorneys’ fees.