(Bob Baffert was all smiles the day after the Kentucky Derby, when he led Medina Spirit out of the barn at Churchill Downs. That soon dissipated when it was discovered that the horse tested positive for an overage of a medication. Later, on this Monday, Medina Spirit died after a morning workout at Santa Anita / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whomever who, and whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”
It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge.
After all, someone has to do it, right? Might as well be us.
And, it didn’t take long for us to find a few pounds of, well, manure. Again.
Seems as if you hang around the embattled Bob Baffert and his little band of elves, you are sure to find a heaping pile
Here is a look at our “20-Something Edition.”
I was in the midst of writing my “opinion piece” on the embattled Bob Baffert and the embarrassing, unprofessional, and, perhaps, equally unethical actions of his attorney, Craig Robertson III, last Friday, when today’s text message popped up on my telephone screen.
It was 11:42 a.m. ET.
It was from my great friend and photographer extraordinaire, Holly M. Smith.
It was a screen shot from the “Thoroughbred Daily News” announcing that Medina Spirit had died this morning.
Then, immediately thereafter, came these simple words from Holly:
“Gong to be a wild Monday.”
But more than that, too.
For quite some time, I must admit, my fingers froze in motion, and try as I might, they would not move. Stuck.
For quite some time, mind you, my mind numbed and slowed to the pace of a laptop computer that locked up with one of those annoying, spinning, rainbow dials. Stuck.
For quite some time, honestly, the stomach burned, with the feeling that I just drank some stagnant and out-of-date milk that was turning curdles and hurdles in my tummy lining. Stuck.
But as I sat, motionless and still, my mind still wandered and wondered, almost aloud without the benefit of my mouth working or words forming.
Is it a “Shocking Monday?”
I am sickened.
Truly, sickened to the core and the pit.
But is it a “Shocking Monday?”
While I will advocate that we all should wait until there is a complete and thorough analysis of Medina Spirit’s remains — which should be conducted by a completely unbiased and premier clinic of professional pathologists and in a fully transparent process — before we declare a cause and effect reason for this catastrophic demise…
While we all should wait for this team of experts to determine the full cause and effect of Medina Spirit’s sudden collapse and until there is a full report conducted and released by this team of equine specialists…
While we all should dismiss anyone’s and everyone’s immediate claim that this death is due either in part or in whole to a heart attack, until there is substantial and/or overwhelming conclusive, unequivocal, convincing evidence to support such a claim or accusation…
And, yes, while we all should also wait to say this incident was not due to a heart attack and is, on the other hand, the result of some nefarious act of negligence or misconduct by Medina’s daily caregivers…
I still must admit, I am not — sadly to say, and write — shocked by today’s news.
You see, this sad, sickening saga of Medina Spirit is one of the worst, star-crossed episodes in the storied and steep history of Thoroughbred racing. Bar none.
You see, this terrible last chapter on the life and times of Medina Spirit is one of the most depressing and heart-wrenching, non-fictional endings in the life and times of horse racing. Bar none.
And, you see, while there is still much work to be done to either clear one’s name or place additional blame on the headstone of this truly honest horse, this isn’t the first time — nor will it be the last — that the name, face, fingerprints of trainer Bob Baffert show up at the scene of yet another horrific situation and/or nightmare.
Time and evidence will tell us, for sure.
Here’s hoping that Chairman Dr. Gregory Ferraro — a noted veterinarian and man of both high intellect and moral values — and his fellow members of the California Horse Racing Board demand nothing less than the best scientists and the highest standards of tests in their upcoming investigation.
And, here’s hoping that Dr. Ferraro and his team demand complete transparency throughout this process and allows no interference from either highly-placed racetrack executives or legal counselors.
But isn’t it getting old?
Isn’t it getting rather strange, that the same man’s name is associated with so many tragedies?
On June 18, 2021 — less than 6 months ago — writers Gus Garcia-Roberts and Steven rich penned (typed) an article in the “Washington Post” that carried the ominous headline of: “The dark side of Bob Baffert’s reign.”
Just five paragraphs into the story, the duo wrote:
“At least 74 horses have died in Baffert’s care in his home state of California since 2000, more than all but two of hundred of trainers in the state, according to a Post analysis of data and public records. But when factoring in the number of races run, Baffert’s horses have died at the highest rate of the 10 trainers who have had the most horse deaths.”
In the story, there is a chart that echoes hallow:
The number of deaths per 1,000 starts. Baffert has 74 in 8,913 starts. That amounts to 8.30. That ranks him a very dubious first over the likes of Jeff Bonds, Charles Treece, and the now banned Jerry Hollendorfer.
If that is not bad enough, does anyone have to remind the industry that it was Baffert and his barn that had seven of its’ horses die in one spell several years ago?
In the same “Washington Post” story, the authors wrote that some state investigators discovered “…that his staff was mixing a potentially dangerous prescription drug into the feed of every horse in the barn’s care.”
They went on to to publish this:
“But a top veterinary official cleared Baffert, finding that the spate of deaths ‘remains unexplained’ following a probe that demonstrated the hazards of going after Baffert.”
Both of Baffert’s attorneys — Craig Brewster and Craig Robertson III — have disputed the numbers and the claims. Still, the “Washington Post” had this to add to the story:
“The majority of the deaths in Baffert’s care are attributed to breakdowns, though others have died suddenly without explanation and some of the horses suffered illness — including his most recent death, Noodles, in May where pneumonia was the suspected cause. The deadliest period came between 2000 and 2005, when 34 of Baffert’s horses in California died. Nine died in 2000, all but one from breakdowns.”
And, just to add more citations to this highly-decorated veteran of the Thoroughbred sport?
Baffert’s horses have been cited for drug-related violations an amazing 29 times, according to the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI). The latest came just this Spring, and a few days after setting the record for most wins in the history of the Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit tested positive for an overage of a permissive medication.
Just look at recent history:
Justify — who ended up winning the Triple Crown in 2018 — should have, in all probability, never qualified for the Kentucky Derby, after it was determined that the 3YO colt had tested positive for a banned substance, scopolamine, after winning the Santa Anita Derby. That test was never revealed by California racing officials until it was much too late to prevent him from running in the Derby.
In 2020, Baffert’s stellar runners — Gamine and Charlatan — were found with positive test results in Arkansas. A bit later in the year, Gamine once again tested positive in the Kentucky Oaks.
Then, only a few weeks after the Arkansas Racing Commission overturned the disqualification and suspension for the 2020 violations at Oaklawn Park, Medina Spirit tested positive after his surprising, upset win in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
But then, again.
Aren’t we getting tired of the same old same oh?
Now, today, we hear that Medina Spirit has died.
Perfectly healthy horse just 24 hours ago, and under the supervision of a Hall of Fame trainer with all the best veterinarian and caregivers that money can buy, rent, or lease.
But, truthfully, are you shocked on this “Wild Monday?”
I am not shocked.
But not shocked. And, that is sad, in its’ own right, too.
What I Am Shocked About:
Late on Friday afternoon, I got another text from a dear friend of mine, who is still employed and engaged in the sports reporting business.
At 6:14 p.m., I received the following message:
“…can you take a look at the email I just sent you and give me your thoughts.”
I looked at the email.
And, I gave my friend my thoughts.
First, here is the email that was forwarded to me. It had been sent in a mass message to members of the press by one Craig Robertson III, who is empowered to represent the beleaguered and embattled Bob Baffert.
“The testing of the split urine sample of MEDINA SPIRIT has now been completed by Dr. George Maylin, Director of the New York Drug Testing & Research Program. By Order of the Franklin Circuit Court in Kentucky, this urine was tested “to determine if the alleged topical administration of OTOMAX could have resulted in the finding of betamethasone” in MEDINA SPIRIT following the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Those results have now definitively confirmed that the betamethasone present in MEDINA SPIRIT’s system did indeed come from the topical ointment OTOMAX and not an injection. In other words, it has now been scientifically proven that what Bob Baffert said from the beginning was true – MEDINA SPIRIT was never injected with betamethasone and the findings following the Kentucky Derby were solely the result of the horse being treated for a skin condition by way of a topical ointment – all at the direction of MEDINA SPIRIT’s veterinarian.
“The betamethasone in an injection is betamethasone acetate. The betamethasone in the topical ointment is betamethasone valerate. Only betamethasone acetate is addressed and regulated in the rules of racing in Kentucky. Thus, the presence of betamethasone valerate in MEDINA SPIRIT, which resulted from a topical ointment, is not a rules violation. Dr. Maylin’s testing not only confirmed the presence of betamethasone valerate, but also the absence of betamethasone acetate. This should definitively resolve the matter in Kentucky and MEDINA SPIRIT should remain the official winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
“Since May, Mr. Baffert has been the subject of an unfair rush to judgment. We asked all along that everyone wait until the facts and science came to light. Now that it has been scientifically proven that Mr. Baffert was truthful, did not break any rules of racing, and MEDINA SPIRIT’s victory was due solely to the heart and ability of the horse and nothing else, it is time for all members of racing to come together for the good of the sport. Mr. Baffert has been a tremendous ambassador for the sport throughout his 46 year Hall of Fame career and he has every intention of continuing to do so.”
Craig Robertson III
And, here is my response to my good friend:
“…don’t you — or anyone else — find it interesting that Baffert’s lawyer releases this? Not the scientists. Not the testing lab. Not anyone remotely connected to an unbiased source? I don’t want to get in a debate over Bob Baffert right now. Especially with you, whom I like & respect immensely…But I think before any conclusions — of scientific evidence — can be held in any forum, then it must be presented & cross examined by a regulatory / judicial body whose judgment is not already set. There was no reason for anyone to ever wish or want a positive sample to come back on Medina Spirit to begin with. But one did. Now, it’s time for the evidence to either support a conviction or to convince of innocence. Until that process occurs, in full transparency, there is neither. IMO.”
I still stand by that statement. More so today than the moment I sent it.
And, I will stand by these statements, too.
I think both the Kentucky Court where Mr. Robertson first filed his case seeking the opportunity for a split urine test to be conducted and studied, and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission should both be highly offended that a person sworn to uphold the laws of our Commonwealth would arguably breach the confidence of this process and release information that may or may not be accurate in hopes of either tainting the opinions of those that will soon adjudicate the case, or to win over some kind of public support for their client.
I would think that the Court and/or the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission could or should consider throwing out the so-called evidence now, since it was prematurely released by only one of parties mentioned in the case and that it could prejudice the outcome.
I would think, too, or certainly hope, that any information released by the testing lab would have been protected by confidentiality or non-disclosure until all parties had the opportunity to review and study. And, too, comment.
I would think, or certainly expect, that all findings from the testing lab would have been included in a comprehensive, final report that should be made available, in whole, to the Court; to the Regulatory Body; to the public, in general; and to the press, as a matter of full transparency.
And, finally, I would think that Mr. Robertson could be compelled to respect the Court and the Regulatory Body enough — in the future — and ordered to not unilaterally release information that may be directly attributed to a spokesperson or technician of the testing lab, or, for that matter, may be paraphrased or deducted by a biased reader. Which one was it? Direct quotes? Assumptions? How do we or anyone else even know, at this point in time?
That is shocking. And, that may be a matter that should be considered before the Kentucky Bar Association.
And…Then Back to “Not Shocking II:”
Don’t you find it very interesting that this past Saturday — less than 24 hours after Robertson issued and released his “report” on a New York testing lab reported findings of Medina Spirit’s urine sample — that one John Sikura, a horse farmer from Lexington and a self-admitting friend of Bob Baffert’s, had a “Letter to the Editor” not only written but published in the “Thoroughbred Daily News.”
Just happened to be in the ole’ hamper and computer archives and ready to hit the “send” button for days now, I imagine.
That’s about as believable as Baffert’s first assertion the day that the positive test result became public that the Hall of Fame trainer had never heard of the stuff and certainly had never administered it to Medina Spirit or any other horse that has ever been left in his care.
Well, that position lasted for about 24 hours, too.
It is laughable.
The truth is that someone likely orchestrated the so-called “letter to the editor” to start another press campaign to aide and assist Baffert, whose name and reputation is more than a bit tarnished these days.
But if that is the case, and we would welcome Sikura’s stern denial, you would think that the author would get a few of the facts right to help support his own opinion.
“The case of Bob Baffert has been, sad but fascinating to watch. It has served to be the perfect foil for agenda-driven companies and organizations to attach a face to ‘the cause.’ Due process and the right to defend oneself with veracity is the foundational tenet of this country. It protects citizens from overreaching by entities such as Churchill, NYRA and others banning Baffert from running at their tracks until adjudication is reached–not dictated. The actions of Churchill Downs clearly prioritize what we already know, which is that the value proposition of the Kentucky Derby is their one commitment to racing. The serial monetizing of racetracks, and devotion to casino and historical racing revenue leave them without a credible position except as very good drivers of CDI stock value. The leading face of racing is excluded from racing at Churchill and cannot earn Derby points while the premise argument (veterinary-prescribed topical skin cream) has proven to be validated.”
Sorry, John-boy. Try as you might, you can’t re-direct this criticism and the cause of this situation onto another. You can’t come up with another villain here. You can’t point the murder weapon to another potential culprit in this awful mess.
That theory holds no water.
Certainly, your feeble attempt holds no credibility.
The problem started with — and shall end with — the person solely responsible for ensuring that his horse did not start; did not run; did not compete; and did not finish the world’s most important and critical race with a prohibitive amount of a drug in its’ system.
That would be your friend. That would be Bob Baffert. This is his mess. Own it.
According to the blood drawn after this year’s Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit tested positive for an overage of a drug.
According to the split sample of that blood, Medina Spirit tested positive for an overage of that same drug.
And now, according to his own attorney, the New York testing lab that received the urine test has confirmed that there was the presence of the same drug in the system.
We call that?
Game. Set. Match.
Your boy, Bob Baffert, is responsible.
Try as you might to turn this on Churchill Downs, there is no entity in the world that suffers more than this track — if there is a loss of credibility in the world’s most important race.
Try as you want to make this all about Churchill Downs, there is no one that would want a “clean bill of health” after each and every Kentucky Derby than Churchill Downs.
I am sure that each and every officer of the organization waits — anxiously — until those test results come back.
“The actions of Churchill Downs clearly prioritize what we already know, which is that the value proposition of the Kentucky Derby is their one commitment to racing.”
My God, you are a lost ball in high weeds. Your lack of knowledge is only surpassed by your ignorance of the facts.
Tell us, John, how much has Churchill Downs invested in Kentucky racing over the past 10 years, alone? Venture a guess?
Let me help you with the facts, just a hair. Which, by the way, may be the next thing that your buddy, Robertson, would like to test.
Churchill Downs has spent millions on buying and will spend hundreds of millions on building a new and improved Turfway Park, which will soon offer some of the best purses in North America. In fact, after the full facility is constructed and operational, Turfway Park just may have the second highest purses of any racetrack in the Commonwealth.
Those are purses that some of your would-be customers will race for, and will take advantage of, without question. Guess that just happens by accident, doesn’t it John?
Churchill Downs has spent millions on buying land in Christian County and spent hundreds of millions on building a state-of-the-art harness racing facility in Oak Grove, KY. This facility already has the best ship-in barns in the industry, and the track is one of the best and most safe in the entire world. Some of the purse money generated from this facility and the HHR location attached thereto will enable this track to become the lynchpin of Standardbred racing in Kentucky, and, perhaps, the entire country. Sorry for your buddy, Joe Costa, and the Red Mile. The future is at Oak Grove. And, some of the purse money will further supplement Thoroughbred purses throughout the Commonwealth, as well. Guess that just happens by accident, too?
Not sure about you, John, but I would like to thank Churchill Downs for that investment and commitment.
Churchill Downs has spent hundreds of millions on developing HHR facilities in Louisville, which greatly add and supplement purses.
Churchill Downs is now spending hundreds of millions on improvements at its home base and track — including a brand new turf course and other improvements.
Churchill Downs has joined forces with the Louisville Thoroughbred Society to help create the world’s most prestigious turf club and social engagement venue, which you have yet to grace with your appearance.
Churchill Downs did not cause Baffert’s latest epic fail.
They just had the guts to do something about it.
Something that you — and apparently others, too — can’t seem to locate.