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Sports Opinion: Bob Baffert needs new strategy after betamethasone claims backfire

17:26  12 may  2021
17:26  12 may  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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First, Bob Baffert said it didn’t happen. Now, he says it doesn’t matter. He is wrong on both counts.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s efforts to explain away the positive drug test of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit hit a significant snag Tuesday when he was forced to start backpedaling about betamethasone.

The medication Baffert insisted had never been administered to Medina Spirit turned out to have been part of the colt’s daily treatment through an ointment called Otomax. Thus Baffert’s self-pitying suspicions of skulduggery and his misappropriated claims of “cancel culture” now look just as silly as they sounded upon escaping his lips.

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This calls for a new strategy. But instead of apologizing for his unfounded insinuations and unearned martyr complex, Baffert has chosen to resume his attack on testing thresholds he regards as unreasonable.

“Horse racing must address its regulatory problem when it comes to substances which can innocuously find their way into a horse’s system at the picogram (which is a trillionth of a gram) level,” Baffert said in a prepared statement. “Medina Spirit earned his Kentucky Derby win and my pharmacologists have told me that 21 picograms of betamethasone would have no effect on the outcome of the race.”

Bob Baffert holding a sign: Bob Baffert spoke with the media in front of his barn on the backside of Churchill Downs the day after his seventh victory in the Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit. May 2, 2021 © Pat McDonogh / Courier Journal Bob Baffert spoke with the media in front of his barn on the backside of Churchill Downs the day after his seventh victory in the Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit. May 2, 2021

Plan A: Deny. Plan B: Trivialize.

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“Now they’re going to have to go after the rule,” said Dr. Mary Scollay, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. “. . .They’re going to have to argue that the concentration that resulted from the topical exposure was irrelevant to the horse’s performance and should therefore be dismissed.’’

Whether the 21 picograms of betamethasone detected in Medina Spirit’s blood sample could have made any difference in the outcome of the Derby is an interesting question, but ultimately irrelevant to the disqualification decision. Kentucky regulations call for a mandatory disqualification and loss of purse if any verifiable amount of betamethasone is found in post-race testing and confirmed by a split sample.

It doesn’t matter how it got there. It doesn’t matter if the amount is infinitesimal. It doesn’t matter whether it was enough to enhance performance or mask pain. All that matters to racing regulators is that the trainer was sufficiently sloppy to allow a Class C drug to be administered close enough to competition that it could not clear the horse’s system. (By Baffert’s own admission, Medina Spirit was treated with Otomax until the day before the Derby.)

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More: What does 21 picograms of betamethasone mean? Doctor discusses Medina Spirit drug test

If he didn’t know Otomax contains betamethasone, that’s on him.  If he seeks leniency, a record that includes five drug violations since May, 2020 argues against it. If he expects the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to amend its regulations to accommodate Medina Spirit’s Run for the Roses, he should consider its precedent and its potential liability.

The Derby’s previous drug disqualification took place in 1968, when Dancer’s Image finished first but tested positive for phenylbutazone. That case was litigated for nearly four years before the Kentucky Supreme Court validated the victory of Forward Pass.

Not until 1974 did the Kentucky commission drop its ban on phenylbutazone. If it were to eventually soften its stance on betamethasone, though, it would surely not do so retroactively. To rewrite the rules for Baffert’s benefit would only invite more litigation and deserved derision.

Attorney Craig Robertson can be counted on to turn over every conceivable rock on behalf of his famous client, and the Lexington lawyer should not be underestimated. Robertson found enough procedural flaws in the handling of samples drawn from Baffert’s horses to convince the Arkansas Racing Commission last month to rescind a suspension for a pair of drug violations detected at Oaklawn in 2020.

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Still, should Medina Spirit’s split sample confirm the findings of the first test — as nearly all split samples do — Baffert’s best strategy might be to claim mitigating circumstances. Neither ignorance nor carelessness make for much of an excuse, but they sure beat denying what turns out to be true.

Follow Tim Sullivan on Twitter: @TimSullivan714

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Opinion: Bob Baffert needs new strategy after betamethasone claims backfire

Medina Spirit passes drug tests, cleared to run in Preakness .
BALTIMORE (AP) — Medina Spirit has passed three rounds of prerace drug testing and been cleared to run in the Preakness on Saturday. Maryland racing officials said Friday tests on the Kentucky Derby winner and fellow Bob Baffert-trained Concert Tour came back with nothing that would cause either to be scratched from the second leg of the Triple Crown. Baffert’s camp agreed to rigorous testing and monitoring of his horses as a condition of entry to the Preakness, after Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone in post-Derby testing.

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