“We did not give the horse [betamethasone],” he said Sunday. “Nobody here. He wasn’t around it. So, to me, I was just totally shocked. When I heard this news [Saturday en route to a California airport], it was just shocking, and it’s just, I still, I’m trying to absorb it right now. I still can’t believe that I’m talking about it.” He promised that he and his lawyer, W. Craig Robertson III, would conduct their own investigation involving hair and DNA.
“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 going to 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 going to get to the bottom of it.”
Bob Baffert celebrates Medina Spirit’s victory at the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 1. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
The news of the positive test came at a time when allegations of doping in horse racing have galvanized a sport beset by cheating scandals, deaths and dwindling revenue. Last year, 29 trainers, veterinarians and others were federally indicted on charges involving doping race horses. Those indictments were a result of a group of wealthy horsemen — led by the Jockey Club, which regulates thoroughbred breeding — hiring a private agency to investigate suspected dopers.
Story continues below advertisement
The indictments were among the catalysts for then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sponsoring federal legislation last year that would implement anti-doping regulation of the sort the Jockey Club had been pushing for without success for several years. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was included in a massive spending bill signed into law in December. Among other provisions, the law would make the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency the enforcement body for thoroughbred racing. If it survives challenges by lawsuits from horsemen’s groups, the law will go into effect by mid-2022.
Sunday’s news brought additional calls for a nationalizing of standards, including from Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action. “The latest doping scandal in U.S. horse racing underscores the need for swift implementation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act that will address inconsistencies in drug testing and create a uniform national standard of rules and regulations in the sport,” Irby said.
“I would like to be optimistic about our sport but today we are an embarrassment,” Graham Motion, trainer of 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom, said on Twitter. “Perhaps we have to hit rock bottom before things get better but we only have ourselves and the leaders of our sport to blame. For anyone that loves the sport as much as I do it’s a sad day.”