Bob Baffert, the Hall of Fame horse trainer suspended from participating in multiple events following a winning horse's positive drug test, has been granted a reprieve in court.
A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled Wednesday that the New York Racing Association (NYRA) cannot enforce its ban on Baffert while Baffert's suit against the association is ongoing.
Baffert is the trainer of Medina Spirit, the horse that tested positive for a banned anti-inflammatory drug called betamethasone following its Kentucky Derby win in May. Baffert was subsequently banned from fielding any horses at the Churchill Downs racetrack for two years following the confirmation of the positive test.
Betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid that is allowed in horse racing at a certain level. But Baffert said he was informed that Medina Spirit's postrace test detected 21 picograms per milliliter -- more than double the legal threshold in Kentucky racing.
The NYRA banned Baffert in May before the Belmont Stakes, the third race in thoroughbred racing's so-called Triple Crown. The NYRA called the suspension temporary but offered no end date.
In her decision Wednesday, Judge Carol Bagley Amon said the NYRA -- which runs all equine racetracks in the state -- violated Baffert's right to due process in banning him from New York horse racing with no opportunity for a hearing.
"Due process required that Baffert, having an undisputed property interest in his licensed right to race horses in New York, was entitled to a pre-suspension hearing," Amon wrote, adding that even if the association could prove it necessary to suspend a trainer before a pre-suspension hearing could take place, the law required a "prompt" post-suspension hearing.
"But NYRA has held no hearing -- let alone a prompt one," she wrote.
"And although NYRA characterizes the suspension as 'temporary,' a better description of it would be 'indefinite,'" Amon added. "With so much on the line, Baffert was entitled to (at least) a 'prompt' post-deprivation hearing which should have already occurred."
In a statement issued following the ruling, NYRA defended its decision to suspend Baffert.
"On May 17, 2021, at a time of crisis for the sport, the New York Racing Association, Inc. took emergency action to temporarily suspend Bob Baffert from racing or training at Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course," the statement read.
"This measure was taken to protect the integrity of thoroughbred racing. NYRA will continue to honor that commitment so that fans, the betting public and racing participants can be confident in a level playing field.
"NYRA is reviewing the court's decision today to determine our legal options and next steps," the statement continued. "What is clear, however, is that Mr. Baffert's actions and behavior can either elevate or damage the sport. We expect Mr. Baffert to exert appropriate controls over his operation."
Baffert, who had won his record seventh Derby with Medina Spirit's victory, issued a statement after the Kentucky Derby's result was put in doubt.
"Following the Santa Anita Derby, Medina Spirit developed dermatitis on his hind end. I had him checked out by my veterinarian who recommended the use of an anti-fungal ointment called Otomax. The veterinary recommendation was to apply this ointment daily to give the horse relief, help heal the dermatitis and prevent it from spreading," part of Baffert's statement said.
"While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit's post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results. As such, I wanted to be forthright about this fact as soon as I learned of this information," the statement added.
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