(Medina Spirit on Sunday / Photos by Holly M. Smith)
Let’s be honest.
And, I know how tough that seems to be in today’s society. But let’s give it a try, OK?
There has been nobody, anywhere or any place that has been a bigger fan of horse trainer Bob Baffert than me. No one. Not a single person. Especially in this day and age when what is left of the so-called media look for every reason to demean and ridicule — even when they know little of the subject or subjects of which they write or speak. I have staked my ground. What I always believed to be higher ground. And, it has been right beside and in fully behind the embattled super star trainer.
I have applauded his credentials — which simply have no equal.
I have bestowed the mantel of greatness — above any who have come before him in this sport that I love the most.
I have called him the game’s best. As in ever. As in all-time.
I have appreciated his ability to get a horse ready for the big race and have been amazed at his gift to condition a horse to run his or her best. Especially when the money was on the line. Especially when the TV lights shined the brightest. Especially when the world was tuned in.
And, for the past two years — which now seem like an eternity — I have found reason to believe in and defend the man; found reasons to doubt the mounting evidence of positive drug tests; and convinced myself — and, hopefully, others — that there were plausible explanations for reasonable doubt.
Justify’s hay could have been contaminated. Right? It could have had a foreign substance imbedded in it. After all, other horses tested positive for the same thing on the same day. Could have happened.
The lidocaine could have gotten mixed in with Charlatan’s tongue tie or feed bucket and caused a false positive due to an accidental contamination. Right? After all, the amount found in his system in no way could have impacted or helped in his performance. All the experts agree on that. Could have happened.
Reasons to doubt.
Reasons to give “the greatest” the benefit of “the doubt.”
After all, who would do something so crazy on a major race date when they know that the Horse Racing Gods are watching? After all, who would jeopardize their illustrious career and namesake over a positive drug test when the drug in question would not have helped his horse win?
And, even on this Sunday — which offered no sun on this day that was filled with more doom, despair and agony than any episode of the old TV show He-Haw — I want to think and believe that some of it; most of it; part of it may not be all his fault.
Truly? In my gut, I still want to think that the man is better than this. In my heart of hearts, I want to hold on to some thread of belief that the trainer is better at his job than this. For some reason, I still hold out some small hope that the man is truthful and honest. I want to believe that good does conquer evil.
But let’s be honest here. And, I know how tough that can be in one’s own heart and soul. It is tough to admit when you are wrong.
If these allegations that surfaced on Sunday that Medina Spirit ran and won the Kentucky Derby with a prohibitive drug in his system are true and proven to be fact?
Bob Baffert is wrong. Dead wrong. Woefully wrong.
And, I have been wrong too. Dead wrong. Woefully wrong.
If these allegations are true and proven to be fact?
It is time for Bob Baffert to shut up and shut it down.
No more excuses. No more lame press conferences. No more pointing fingers at others and ghosts in the tack room. No more gimmes. No more mulligans. No more “I don’t knows.” No more.
If these allegations are true and proven to be fact?
It is time that the Racing Commissions around the world take action. Uniform actions. Serious actions. Actions that are no longer slaps on the wrist or pats on the behind.
It is time for woodshed actions.
It is time for actions that give the public confidence that these types of violations will not be tolerated; excused; talked away; swept under the rug. No more.
It is time that these types of behaviors are met with serious consequences, and penalties that either force immediate correction or ultimately mandate expulsion. Not for a day. Not for a week. Not for a month. For frigging ever. No more.
And, it is time for Bob Baffert to come forward and take responsibility for each and every one of these situations that have added up to nothing less than embarrassment and public ridicule. For him. For all of us. And, for our great sport.
Every state that allows for the privilege of training Thoroughbreds within their individual borders has a rule that mandates that the trainer has the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the horses in their care are healthy; well cared for; and will perform without the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs.
Every state that allows for the privilege of training Thoroughbreds within their confines has a set of rules and a list of prohibited medications. Trainers have those rules. They know the limits. They know the consequences.
And, every state that allows for the privilege of training Thoroughbreds within their respective jurisdictions has a list of when certain therapeutic medications can be administered; who can administer them; and the timeline on when those permissive medications can be given so that they do not impact or affect the outcome of a horse race.
The trainer — no one else — is fully responsible for that horse.
The trainer — no one else — is totally responsible to ensure the credibility of that horse on race day.
The trainer — no one else — is the one held accountable that no substance above a certain threshold can be found in the system.
If these allegations are true, and proven to be fact?
When the split sample of Medina Spirit comes back and if it confirms that the horse ran with Betamelthason in his system? When the split sample is returned and if its validates the first test and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s allegations that a corticosteroid was present during the performance of the Kentucky Derby?
Then the privilege to train must be revoked.
Not for a day. Not for a week. Not for a month.
The privilege to train must be revoked until such time that the violator understands the full nature of this actions.
The privilege to train must be revoked until such time that Bob Baffert fully appreciates the job he has been entrusted with, and is fully committed to ensuring the integrity of the horses placed in his care.
The privilege to train must be revoked until such time that Bob Baffert fully understands the damage of his actions and the loss of credibility he has forced upon our sport.
The privilege to train must be revoked until such time that Bob Baffert is willing to admit that his conduct, his lack of oversight and the lack of professional standards in his stable is either due to outright malfeasance or is due to maliciously corrupt intent on someone’s part.
The privilege to train must be revoked until such time that Bob Baffert is willing to ultimately correct the problems associated with his operation.
And, the privilege to train must be revoked until such time that Bob Baffert is willing to publicly apologize for this forever stain that has been tattooed on the world’s greatest sporting event; and is ready to make full amends.
How long will that take?
As long as it takes to take. To dig in. To change Bob Baffert and the way he does business. Not for a day. Forever.
If these allegations are true, and proven to be fact?
This is serious business. With serious consequences.
After all, Bob Baffert — either intentionally or unintentionally — cast us all into the muck pit along with him when Medina Spirit came back with an alleged positive test result following a win in The Kentucky Derby.
And, no matter how you cut it, this ain’t no ordinary race. It should not be considered as just another race. It should not be treated like a positive after a $10,000 claimer at Turfway Park.
This is the most prestigious race in the history of our sport. This is the most pristine event in all of the game. In the first 146 years of running the Kentucky Derby, there had only been one other disqualification due to a positive drug test, and that came way back in 1968 with Dancer’s Image.
This is our industry’s time to shine, and join the world’s greatest sporting events on the calendar of the mind. The TV ratings were at an all-time high. The sun splashed over Kentucky for the first time in such a long time, and there was a return of fans to the stands and a return to the “First Saturday in May.” It seemed, for just a few hours, that the pandemic was over. It seemed, for just a little bit, that we were back at our old Kentucky home once again. And, for a day, there was a good feeling of good will about Thoroughbred racing all around.
And, this is our state’s moment in the sun, too. This is Kentucky’s pride and joy. This is our baby. This is who we are as a people and what makes us proud to be from our Commonwealth. We take this very seriously. We take this religiously.
On Sunday, the news came early and it came often. It was an “OMG” moment, to be sure. It was a sickening moment. It was a sad moment. All rolled into one awful moment.
The news of a possible positive test result cut deep. It cut wide. And, when it was revealed that it was connected to Baffert and the Derby winner? Well, it was devastating.
In many ways, it felt like a funeral on Mother’s Day. And, the favorite son had showed up drunk.
It was ugly. It was disgusting. It was terrible.
We all wondered together…”how could this happen?” We all wondered aloud…”who could do this?” We all felt cheated.
Now, on the eve of the sport’s second leg to the Triple Crown, we are left holding a bag of crap. What to do next. How to do it next.
You see, I truly do believe in the American justice system. I believe in due process. I believe in the idea that every person is innocent until proven guilty. And, it is incumbent to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This system is essential to fair and equitable treatment for one and all. I think it is the best system in the entire free world. And, I think Bob Baffert should be afforded the same considerations. In this case. In every case. The protocols should be allowed and followed. For one. For all.
But let’s be honest, since that is the theme of this column.
The Preakness Stakes is this coming Saturday. Entries were scheduled to be done on Monday, with the Post Position draw. That has now been delayed until Tuesday. But there’s no doubt. Nobody believes that this matter can be remedied, resolved or adjudicated in time for us to know what should or could happen going into Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. We won’t know the facts. We won’t know the results of the split sample. We won’t know any more than what we don’t know today.
This will be a cloud hanging over the sport’s head like a guillotine supported by a torn thread. No matter what, the story won’t be about the race. The story won’t be about the horses in the race. The story won’t be about who wins the race.
The story will be about Baffert and Medina Spirit and the questions surrounding the possible drug positive and whether or not someone cheated to win the world’s greatest race.
The story will be about how the industry is full of cheaters and drug abusers.
The story will be about how the industry does not care for the well-being of the horse.
The storyline will be awful. And, of course, Joe Drape, of “The New York Times,” will show up to dig his knife just a little deeper into the heart and soul of our hearts and souls. He has never missed a chance to hate the industry that most of us love. He won’t miss this one, either.
So, to help avoid this continuing saga, I have a suggestion. One that may prove that Bob Baffert truly does care about this industry and this sport and how we are perceived in the rest of the world.
Until this matter is resolved, one way or another, I am asking Bob Baffert to take a leave of absence. I am asking Bob Baffert to call his owners and request that they send their horses to other trainers. I am asking Bob Baffert to turn over Medina Spirit and Concert Tour — two of the likely favorites for this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes — to someone else and allow the owners and the sport the opportunity to enjoy the grandeur of the Triple Crown without the cold shadow of Sunday’s news.
Until this matter is resolved, one way or another, I am asking Bob Baffert to “retire” and voluntarily leave the game and allow the sport to move on without the hangover of this precarious overhang.
Until this matter is resolved, one way or another, I am asking Bob Baffert to do the right thing — for his owners; for his horses; for his sport. Take some time off. Let the news be about the horses. Let the news be about the race.
Maybe the time off will give Baffert a chance to re-evaluate his operation and put more checks and balances into his security system. Maybe the time off will allow Baffert to fully appreciate the game; the sport; the horses and the importance of doing all things according to the rules of engagement. Maybe the time off will help Baffert recommit to doing his job the way it is supposed to be done.
No matter what the outcome of this latest saga will be, it is time for Bob Baffert to do the right thing.
And, if he does the right thing now, maybe he has time to rebuild his stable again. Maybe he can eventually restore credibility to his name and honor to his first 6 wins in the Kentucky Derby. Maybe he can be considered the best trainer in the history of the game once more.