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.

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Horse Racing Ethics: Justify Was A Fake Triple Crown Winner. Now What?

The term “horse racing ethics” is justly regarded as an oxymoron, and the stunning scandal revealed yesterday shows why.

The U.S. Thoroughbred Racing Triple Crown is one of the most prestigious achievements in all of sports. The three races that make up the Triple Crown, all competed in by three-year-old horses, are the Kentucky Derby, run over the 1 1⁄4-mile dirt track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky; the Preakness Stakes, run over the 1 3⁄16-mile (1.9 km) dirt track at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland; and the Belmont Stakes, run over the 1 1⁄2-mile (2.4 km) dirt track (the longest in U.S. thoroughbred racing) at Belmont Park in Belmont, New York.

The first Triple Crown winner was Sir Barton in 1919, and there have been only twelve since, among them the most fabled names in the sport: War Admiral, Count Fleet, Whirlaway, Secretariat, Affirmed. Winning the Triple Crown is a bonanza for the sport as well as the owner of the victorious horse, which will eventually demand huge stud fees. After Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, no horse achieved that pinnacle for 37 years. Then, finally, American Pharaoh  broke the drought in 2015. A filly out of that Triple Crown winner recently sold for a record $8.2 million. The Triple Crown is a big deal; in thoroughbred racing, there is no bigger deal.

The thoroughbred racing world only had to wait three years for another super-champion this time: Justify won the Triple Crown in 2018. Now we know, however,  that the horse was an illicit competitor, and should have been disqualified. This is approximately the horse racing equivalent of  gamblers rigging baseball’s World Series in 1919, a scandal that almost destroyed the sport.

This week we learned, courtesy of a New York Times investigation, that  Justify had 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 on acting, then decided to dismiss the case after the colt went on to win the Triple Crown. Continue reading