NYRA suspends Baffert for 1 year; eligible to return in January
The New York Racing Association suspended trainer Bob Baffert for one year Thursday for repeated medication violations.
A panel credited Baffert for time served from an initial suspension that makes the two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer eligible to saddle horses in New York again Jan. 26. The final decision marks the end of a protracted back and forth about Baffert's status in the state that began in May 2021.
“This was an impartial and deliberative process that has resulted in a lengthy suspension of the sport’s most prominent trainer,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in statement. “However, this is not simply about Bob Baffert or any one individual but about protecting the integrity of the sport here in New York. Today’s decision advances that goal.”
The ban is shorter than the two years Churchill Downs sidelined Baffert after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. Retired New York State Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood who was serving as the NYRA hearing officer previously recommended a two-year suspension.
Baffert’s camp asked for a stay of the NYRA suspension that was immediately denied. A message seeking comment from Baffert or his attorney was not immediately returned.
The panel’s decision cannot be appealed through NYRA’s process, which was developed last year after Baffert successfully sued in federal court to get his initial suspension in the state of New York lifted. Baffert is also fighting in federal court against the Churchill Downs ban that made him ineligible to run horses in the Derby in 2022 and '23.
Under the terms of the suspension agreed to by the panel made up of Saratoga attorney John J. Carusone, New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association executive director Will Alempijevic and New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America leader the Rev. Humberto Chavez, Baffert would be able to be a part of the Belmont Stakes next year.
The panel in its 14-page ruling disagreed with Sherwood over the matter of Baffert “doping” his horses, saying, “The drugs for which use Baffert was cited in three jurisdictions are allowed and commonly used but are nevertheless performance enhancing in the sense that they may suppress injuries and may allow the horse to perform at a normal level in spite of the injury if they are found to be at a level above the allowable threshold.”
Medina Spirit tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone, which is not allowed in Kentucky on race day, and was later disqualified. The colt finished third in the Preakness two weeks after the Derby.
Medina Spirit collapsed and died in December in California. An exam found no definitive cause of death.
Baffert-trained Cruel Intention, Eclair, Charlatan, Gamine and Merneith also tested positive for a substance not allowed at that level on race day. Those violations occurred in California, Arkansas or Kentucky; none happened was in New York.
Baffert, 69, is a Hall of Fame trainer who has become the face of the sport. He won the Triple Crown twice: in 2015 with American Pharoah and in 2018 with Justify.