The Latest Kentucky Derby Doping Scandal Should End Horse Racing…Let’s Hope It Does

Derby cheat

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test, and if the results stand, his victory will be nullified. The horse’s Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert revealed the test results yesterday. The three-year-old colt tested positive for elevated levels of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid and sometimes used to relieve joint pain in horses. Medina Spirit’s post-race test revealed 21 picograms per milliliter, which is more than double the allowed limit in Kentucky racing.

If the original results are confirmed, Baffert will have a chance to appeal. Meanwhile, Churchill Downs suspended” Baffert “from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack.”

While the Derby’s winner is under suspicion, the second “jewel” in racing’s Triple Crown, The Preakness, takes place in five days. Medina Spirit will run, even as his legitimacy as Kentucky Derby is in doubt.

The Kentucky Derby is the only horse race most Americans know anything about or pay attention to: a cheating scandal in the Derby is racing’s equivalent of baseball’s 1919 fixed World Series. The difference is that baseball was on the ascendant in 1919, while horse racing today is is barely hanging on by its hooves. Moreover, drugging in horse racing has been epidemic for decades.

Incredibly, Bob Baffert was the trainer in another scandal that called the Derby into question just two years ago, which I wrote about here. The horse that time was Justify, who went on to win the Triple Crown. I guess that scandal was a little too complicated and was revealed too long after the race—or horse racing fans are just inattentive and gullible. A refresher, adapted from that earlier post:

Justify tested positive for the banned drug scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, 2018. That win qualified the horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, one month later, in which he would be a likely favorite to win. Behind closed doors, the California Horse Racing Board first stalled, then decided to dismiss the case after the colt went on to win the Triple Crown.

By the rules, Justify’s test result should have meant a disqualification from the Santa Anita victory, forfeiture of the purse, and his removal  from the  Kentucky Derby field. California regulators,  however, waited until April 26, nine days before the Kentucky Derby, to inform Justify’s trainer, Baffert.  Baffert took the strategic stalling move  of demanding  that a second sample be tested by an independent lab. The original positive results were confirmed on May 8,  three days after Justify won the Kentucky Derby.

The usual procedure was for the racing board to file  a complaint and hold a hearing. It was not followed. On August 23, four months after Justify failed the drug test and two months after Justify had won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to complete his Triple Crown, the board’s executive director, Rick Baedeker, engineered  a unanimous vote by the board’s commissioners to drop the case. Take it away, Frank Drebbin!

(I’ve been using that clip a lot of late. What does that tell you?)

These are corrupt people running a corrupt sport, and the rot is too deep to be removed. Why in the world anyone would follow a sport where cheating is commonplace at the highest levels, I cannot imagine. Even in an era of staged reality shows and a sock-puppet President, it is incomprehensible.

The latest scandal should finally put the last metaphorical nail in horse racing as a respectable sport. Maybe it will survive like professional wrestling, as entertainment for idiots.

9 thoughts on “The Latest Kentucky Derby Doping Scandal Should End Horse Racing…Let’s Hope It Does

  1. Doping killed cycling for me (I used to spend quite a bit of time following the Tour de France and the Giro with my dad). I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of semi-casual fans see this and drop the thing in disgust.

  2. “Maybe it will survive like professional wrestling, as entertainment for idiots.”

    At least the professional wrestlers (rasslers) have a choice about participating. Horse racing is animal abuse. Few things are as beautiful as a healthy horse running across his pasture; better yet if you are aboard it.

    Semi-full disclosure: multi-decade horse person.

  3. I’d be interested to know someday your thoughts about the ethics of present-day professional tennis.

    Draws for big events are no longer made in public, and fans have good reason to believe draws are fixed.

    Behavior rules are bent or ignored for players perceived to be commercial draws.

    The sports’ already incestuous governing bodies are now starting to sign agreements with gambling sites.

    Do you follow/care about tennis? Do you have opinions about the sport? TY!

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