(Baffert after Authentic’s win in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland / Coady Photography)
Here’s a few thoughts on the Thoroughbred industry’s state of affairs:
Breeders’ Cup Failed:
The Breeders’ Cup — which was created to be a Championship Day of racing by the late, great John Gaines and has grown into one of the world’s greatest Thoroughbred racing events on an annual bases — has failed.
Miserably. Disgustingly. Terribly.
Not surprisingly. Not shockingly.
Earlier this week — when faced with mounting pressure to make a final decision on what to do this year with the horses that are currently trained by the embattled Bob Baffert — the Breeders’ Cup Board and organization released a statement that falls short of the integrity that this organization’s founder demanded or envisioned when he first developed the idea to create it.
Earlier this week — when faced with time issues to make a final decision — the Breeders’ Cup Board straddled that proverbial fence which borders most of the farms of its’ very Board members.
On Sunday, the organization’s spokespersons and highly-paid PR team announced — via a press release — that it would allow for horses under the care of Baffert to be entered and to run under certain conditions, that have been agreed to by the trainer and his legal counsel.
Some of those conditions include “out of competition” testing and pre-race testing and increased security of all horses to be stabled on the grounds of Del Mar and included in the event’s extravagant two-day Championship races.
The announcement also released details that Baffert would have to pay for the additional tests and cover the costs of the increased security measures and barn video cameras.
Here is a copy of the full statement from the Breeders’ Cup:
“Breeders’ Cup conducts Thoroughbred racing at the highest levels of safety and integrity for the benefit of our horses, riders, participants, fans and bettors. To this end, the Breeders’ Cup board of directors convened a special review under legal counsel to evaluate the recent conduct of Mr. Bob Baffert in order to determine whether he should be permitted to participate in the 2021 World Championships. In the interest of fairness, Mr. Baffert was provided with advanced notice and an opportunity to take part in the process, and the board appreciated his participation and cooperation in connection with its inquiries.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances, Breeders’ Cup has decided to require all horses trained by Mr. Baffert to undergo enhanced out-of-competition, pre- and post-race testing and other security protocols, at his own expense, in order to participate in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar.
“In addition to operating under the rules and regulations of both the California Horse Racing Board and Del Mar for the 2021 World Championships, those competing in any Breeders’ Cup race are subject to another set of rules specific to the Breeders’ Cup, which include the Breeders’ Cup Condition of Entry, the Prohibited Substance Rule and the Convicted Trainer Rule. On top of our industry-leading protocols and standards, additional testing and security requirements for any horse under Mr. Baffert’s care will be administered at his expense under a signed agreement to provide a more targeted layer of accountability. These additional measures include increased randomized out-of-competition testing for all prohibited and restricted substances, additional tests administered the week of the World Championships, increased veterinarian and security checks, and in-person 24-hour security surveillance ahead of the horse or horses’ respective events. Mr. Baffert has agreed to abide by each of these additional measures.
“Working with horses and competing in the World Championships is a privilege, and medication restrictions and testing protocols are in place for a reason. The Breeders’ Cup expects Mr. Baffert’s complete cooperation in ensuring that every horse under his care is in full compliance with all medication restrictions and safety standards.
“Breeders’ Cup looks forward to the uniform rules and enforcement mechanisms that the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority’s antidoping and medication control program will bring to our sport.”
That, my friends, is horse manure. (I would like to be more “bullish” in my comments, but this is a “family-friendly” column.)
But the statement?
The Breeders’ Cup had a great opportunity to do what is right. And, just. And, fair.
The Breeders’ Cup had a chance to make a statement that would mean far more than the hundreds of words that its’ PR experts tried to spin to make this lack of backbone and lack of a decision more palatable.
The Breeders’ Cup had the perfect time to take a final stand. To issue to the world a standard that is not to be questioned and never to be compromised. To set the bar exactly where it should be every single day that a trainer leads a horse over to run in any race — much less one that has a Grade 1 designation and a possible Championship on the line.
The Breeders’ Cup had the ball in its’ collective hands.
And, the Breeders’ Cup Board dropped it. Right into the middle of nothing less than horse manure. The Breeders’ Cup failed. Miserably. Terribly. Awfully.
The facts are these, my friends:
#1: Over the past few years, Bob Baffert and his barn have had positive test results in Graded Stakes events over, and over, and over, and over, and over. His horse, Justify, should have been DQ’d from his win in the Santa Anita Derby after testing positive, and, as such, should have never made the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. As a result, the horse would have never been eligible to win a Triple Crown. Never. His horses Gamine and Charlatan tested positive after winning Graded Stakes in Arkansas, too. His filly Gamine — yep, the same one — tested positive after running third in the G1 Ky Oaks in 2020. And, now? Now, the same guy is still under investigation for a drug positive following Medina Spirit’s victory in this year’s G1 Kentucky Derby.
#2: No trainer in this sport has ever had the audacity to go on a PR tour of duty to proclaim his innocence, and, yet, immediately — within 24 hours — contradict his initial denial that neither he or anyone else in his employ had ever given Medina Spirit the medication that was eventually found in prohibited amounts in his system. It was such an embarrassment and befuddling contraction of comments and allegations that Baffert, himself, became the subject of critique and ridicule in both the horse world and beyond. The TV comedy show — “Saturday Night Live” — did a parody on the very issue. Sadly, though, this is not a funny issue.
#3: Before the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission could even act on the matter that was soon to be before them, the beleaguered trainer and his legal counsel filed lawsuit in Kentucky to demand that split samples of both urine and blood were to be tested by other laboratories of their choosing. Since, there have been allegations and counter allegations between the oversight committee and the trainer’s representatives over the final conclusion of those tests and the amount of product that is now left to undergo additional testing. Still, the world awaits the final determinations of those tests that were to be conducted by Baffert’s and his attorney’s lab technicians. Where are those results? Why is it taking so long? When will those be announced? We are all waiting, Bob. The tube is in your court, right?
#4: Since the first tests results were released, Baffert first denied any wrongdoing. Zero. None. Nada. In fact, he grew angry when it was first brought to his attention. Yet? Since, he has backed up. Again. And, again. Now, he contends that the horse was given medication for a skin rash that nobody — not a single human — knew that it contained some of the same medication.
#5: Now, Baffert’s whole defense is that the test is too “sensitive” and that the prohibited overage amounts had nothing to do with the horse’s amazingly improved performance and had zero to do with helping the horse win the game’s most historic and important race.
#6: Now, Baffert’s arguments seemingly center on the central issue that he — nor anyone else in his employ — injected the medication into a joint to alleviate any possible pain issues, and, instead, must have simply leached into the horse’s blood system from the ointment that was spread on the horses rear end to treat a possible skin rash. Yet? While the Baffert team has submitted and provided photographs showing a possible skin rash on Medina Spirits back quarters going into this year’s Kentucky Derby? At this point in time, no one has produced a single tube of the skin rash medication — or a prescription for its’ use — that may have produced the high levels of the medication in the horse’s system in the post-race test. If you have a used tube, show it to us. If you have a prescription for that medication, show it to us. If you don’t have either? Hmmmm.
Following this year’s Kentucky Derby debacle, Churchill Downs has taken proactive actions to address this alarming situation and this continuing debacle that seemingly happens in and around the same trainer over, and over, and over, and over. Is that 5 “overs?”
Churchill Downs first ruled Baffert off the grounds and ordered him to vacate his normal barn on the backside. Bravo.
Churchill Downs then prohibited Baffert — or anyone under his employ or control — to enter any horses at Churchill Downs. Bravo.
Churchill Downs then announced that any horse under the direction and supervision of Baffert would not be eligible to win any “points” for the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Bravo.
Finally, Churchill Downs announced that Baffert would not be allowed to enter any horse at the track or for the Kentucky Derby for the next two years. Bravo.
Along the way, the New York Racing Association decided to follow suit while this entire scenario played out with the regulatory body. It, too, decided to prohibit Baffert from entering any horse at a NYRA-owned and sanctioned racetrack and denied Baffert stalls at any of its’ properties, too. Bravo.
Only after a lawsuit was filed by Baffert’s attorneys did a Court and Judge overturn the New York ban and allowed Baffert to run Gamine in New York. Boo.
The truth is this, my friends, whether you agree with my opinion or not, the Breeders’ Cup has the right to instal these new and innovative (right) same criteria and testing obligations on any and all trainers that choose to participate in the Championship events. This year. Every year.
In fact, if the Breeders’ Cup believes in these pre-race and post-race requirements so strongly, then impose them. On one. On all.
Impose the testing.
Impose the security measures. Make security cameras mandatory. Make security guards normal.
Impose the cost on the owners, because we all know that is who is going to pay for it, any way. Baffert is not going to have to pony up a single nickel. He won’t be out a dime.
If you think so highly of your recommendations, then impose them. On one. On all.
I think everyone in the industry would applaud the extra scrutiny. Or, at the very least, shouldn’t they?
But the truth is, the Breeders’ Cup had the opportunity to do exactly what Churchill Downs did and what NYRA tried to do. The truth is, the Breeders’ Cup had an opportunity to stand up against repeat offenders, who obviously have no respect for the current rules and obligations of a trainer. The truth is, the Breeders’ Cup had a chance to stand for credibility and give both the participants and the bettors further assurances that our sport and our game are held to the highest standards. That you can wager your money and make your entry fees based on the firm knowledge that everyone is playing under the same rules.
The Breeders’ Cup had that chance.
And, the Breeders’ Cup blew it. Big time.
And, as a result, the questions not only remain, but they grow bigger and more serious.
Why doesn’t the sport’s hierarchy stand up?
Why doesn’t the sport’s elite demand more; demand better; demand compliance. From one. From all.
Why doesn’t the sport’s biggest and best support the rules, that they help create, and demand punishment for those that do not?
Why don’t the members of the Breeders’ Cup Board — who have a financial or personal connection to Baffert now or have had a business relationship with him in the past — acknowledge the perceived and actual conflicts of interest and publicly recuse themselves from this process?
If you believe that the Breeders’ Cup and its’ Board had no choice but to allow Baffert and his horses access to the entry box because there has not been any official action taken yet, and no prohibition levied by the California Horse Racing Board, yet?
Come on, now. Seriously?
Fact is, the track makes the rules of who and whom can come onto the grounds. The track makes the rules on whom they will allow to make entry. What did Santa Anita do to Jerry Hollendorfer a couple of years back?
And, on Breeders’ Cup days? The track gives all to the Breeders’ Cup. All.
The Breeders’ Cup could have taken stronger actions. In our view, the Breeders’ Cup should have taken stronger actions.
Leave it up to Baffert and his attorney to challenge that action. After all, they are used to that by now, right?
The Breeders’ Cup is one of our game’s biggest and brightest shinning stars. It is a day for Championship races on the track. It is a day to celebrate and commemorate.
The Breeders’ Cup should be that each year. Every year. A day — or two — when the very best meet the very best to determine just who is the best of the best.
Unfortunately, this year’s Breeders’ Cup with have a shroud of suspicion cast upon it by a man who has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of either professionalism or integrity; a lack of maintaining the highest levels of barn maintenance and discipline or an outright and conscious disregard for the rules that govern the sport.
It is up to those that have the legal obligation to referee our industry and sport to make the final decisions and prescribe a remedy to enforce the rules.
But our sport deserves better.
Our fans deserve better.
Our bettors deserve more.
Our industry should demand more.
It’s one thing to stand up with a group of other people and others representing organizations throughout the industry and to pledge a zero tolerance edict when it comes to prohibitive drugs or positive drug tests. Seen enough of those press conferences and promises.
It’s another to stand up when the game is truly on and it’s your call. It’s another to do what you say you will do and deliver on your list of promises.
After all, unless you have the guts to enforce the rules that you have, then you have no rules at all.
Unless you have the integrity to make all adhere, you have no right to make any obey.
Unless you you stand for something, you will fall for anything.
The Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors fell short. Way short.