Medina Spirit heads to Preakness, minus trainer Bob Baffert

Sports

CORRECTS PERSON AT RIGHT TO LEONA O’BRIEN – Trainer Bob Baffert is greeted by Leona O’Brien, wife of jockey John Velazquez, after Medina Spirit won the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit is headed to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes while trainer Bob Baffert said Monday that he won’t attend the race to avoid being a distraction in the wake of scrutiny following the colt’s failed postrace drug test.

Medina Spirit’s Derby win by half a length over Mandaloun on May 1 gave Baffert his record seventh victory in the sport’s premier race. That milestone win is now in jeopardy following Baffert’s announcement on Sunday that test results revealed the horse had an excessive amount of the steroid betamethasone.

Baffert is appealing the positive test and part of the original sample will be re-tested. If the violation is upheld, Medina Spirit could be disqualified and runner-up Mandaloun elevated to winner.

The trainer has denied all wrongdoing and promised full transparency with Kentucky racing officials. Churchill Downs nonetheless suspended Baffert from entering horses at the track. The Maryland Jockey Club and Pimlico officials say they will decide on Medina Spirit’s status in the Triple Crown’s middle jewel after reviewing the facts.

Baffert’s lawyer, W. Craig Robertson III, confirmed to The Associated Press he is prepared to file for a temporary restraining order to keep Preakness officials from denying Medina Spirit entry into the race, if they decide to do so.

Those events will unfold with Baffert back in California instead of at the race where he will go for a record eighth victory.

“I go to Baltimore to have a good time. It’s a fun trip,” Baffert said. “I don’t want to take away from the horses. I think it’d be a distraction if I went. I think it’d be a distraction if I win. The owners will be there. (Assistant trainer) Jimmy (Barnes) can handle it.”

Whether he is in Baltimore or not, the focus right now is on Medina Spirit and Baffert.

Medina Spirit and Concert Tour, who skipped the Derby, arrived at Pimlico on Monday afternoon after being transported by van from Churchill Downs. The field for the 146th Preakness will be drawn on Tuesday after being pushed back a day because of the uncertainty.

In the meantime, Baffert continued to deal with the fallout from his fifth horse to have failed a drug test in over a year.

Medina Spirit was found to have 21 picograms of betamethasone, which is sometimes used to treat pain and inflammation in horses. It was the same drug found in Baffert-trained filly Gamine, who finished third in last fall’s Kentucky Oaks before being disqualified following a test. Baffert was fined $1,500.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he is disappointed in multiple ways and stressed the rule “was well known to anybody running in the Kentucky Derby.” But he added that Baffert will get due process.

Baffert acknowledged the criticism he is receiving on social media and understands the public scrutiny of him as the face of horse racing. He also expressed disappointment with Churchill Downs officials for a statement announcing his suspension soon after he revealed the failed drug test.

“I thought I had had a pretty good relation(ship) with them with all the stuff I’ve done with my Triple Crown winners,” he said. “I’m the face of the sport and I’m trying to promote my sport. And that was a pretty low blow, what they did yesterday. I wish they would’ve called me.”

With that, Baffert’s hope is that Medina Spirit can make a strong showing in the Preakness and put the public skepticism to rest — for now.

“I want him to run a good race because now everybody’s piling on him,” Baffert said. “It’s probably more pressure now that he’s got to run well.”

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno and Associated Press Writer Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Kentucky contributed to this report.

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