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Horse racing insiders react to Medina Spirit controversy

Kentucky Derby Horse Racing
Posted at 8:14 PM, May 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-09 20:23:59-04

Kenny Rice has covered horse racing for decades, but even he was caught off guard after learning of Sunday's news about Medina Spirit.

"I think like everybody else I was surprised," Rice, who covers the Kentucky Derby for NBC Sports, said. "I mean that seems to be the word of the day in this whole situation. It's 'surprised.'"

Rice, who has known Bob Baffert professionally for 25 years, said he will await the results of the split sample before drawing a conclusion, but he noted that even the perception of wrongdoing could hurt the sport.

"Coming just a couple years ago on the interference disqualification, that cloud gets a little darker over racing right now," he said.

Rice said there needs to be more uniformity in racing, as it pertains to rules governing drugs.

"I mean, are we going to get into nanograms and picograms and micrograms and things like that that confuse everyone?" he asked rhetorically.

Baffert said Sunday that Medina Spirit was found to have 21 picograms of betamethasone in his system. The legal limit for the drug in Kentucky is 10 picograms.

"So break down a picogram," Rice said. "It's basically like if we took a handful of sand and went to the beach and threw it in with the other sand."

A picogram equates to one trillionth of a gram. Rice said he is skeptical that 21 picograms of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug, would give a horse an unfair competitive advantage.

"It just seems minute," Rice said. "Again, we're talking about that much into an 11 hundred pound animal. It just seems impossible that that could be the effect."

Still, the positive result finds Baffert again at the center of a doping controversy. Medina Spirit is the fifth Baffert horse in just over a year to fail a drug test.

Horse racing expert Todd Schrupp joined LEX 18 News at 6 on Sunday live from Santa Anita in California. Anchor Conroy Delouche first asked him for his reaction to the news.

Schrupp: "It was very disappointing because there was a lot of momentum coming out of the Kentucky Derby for the sport/ Ot was some of the highest television ratings NBC had ever garnered it for coverage of the Kentucky Derby, some of the highest handle numbers. You also had a compelling story of a horse that was purchased for only $35,000 to go on to win the Kentucky Derby. And then you have the history that was being made by Bob Baffert winning his seventh Kentucky Derby and standing alone. Now it looks like he may join in dubious history here and that is the last horse to be disqualified in the Kentucky Derby, and the only one from a win, was Dancer's Image back in 1968."

Delouche: "We now have seen two of the last three races finished with some controversy, sticking with the history theme, but overall this is a rare occurrence still in the Derby?

Schrupp: "Well it is and here's the other thing, it shows that the system works. And with Bob Baffert, as much as he's accomplished, if he has a situation where a horse has broken the rules and under his care, then he is still going to be accountable for that. And that's something to keep in mind. Regardless of how this happened, every trainer is responsible for the horse in their care and so Bob Baffert can explain away a lot of situations that may have led to this, but ultimately, it's his responsibility."

Following the newscast, our conversation continued.

Delouche: Can you take us behind the curtain? When are Kentucky Derby horses generally tested for the race and why are we learning about this just now?

Schrupp: Immediately after the race and that's the protocol (at) just about every race track in the country. We talked about uniformity in the sport; it is a big issue. But as far as the testing issue, everyone pretty much is the same, and that is in competition testing takes place after a race. In most cases, you will take a look at the top three finishers. Sometimes they randomly select the horse from a barn, but obviously the Kentucky Derby winner is going to get extra scrutiny. And so this happened after the race.

Delouche: "We'll jump ahead to the Preakness Stakes, which is coming up in less than a week in just a moment, but first can you tell us about where you are right now?

Schrupp: "I'm at Santa Anita, which is Bob Baffert's home base. As a matter of fact, you can see this historic grandstand behind me with the statute of Zenyatta, but if you follow with me right here. This is the horse path here at Santa Anita where the horses walk over to the paddock, and if you follow this horse path all the way back to the barn area, the first barn you will see belongs to Bob Baffert. He's resided in barn one. This is his home base. So essentially, his seven Kentucky Derby winners have resided at that very barn. The question is whether or not Medina spirit will remain as the seventh Derby winner. And I want to emphasize that a decision has not been made. We have due process in the sport of horse racing, just like we do in the criminal justice system at large in our society. And that is a trainer, if they have this situation where there is a positive test, they can ask for a split sample. Obviously, the connections of Medina Spirit have done that. Bob Baffert insists this horse has never been on the medication that was found in his system. And so the split sample will be very, very important."

Delouche: "Now Preakness is less than a week away. Have you learned anything about how this could impact that race?

Schrupp: "It has already affected the Preakness in a major way. They've moved the post position draw. The post-position draw for the Preakness was to be held on Monday. It has now been moved to Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern time. I've been in the game for over 35 years, I've never heard that happening. I assume this is because obviously, they want to wait for the results of that split sample, if indeed Medina spirit comes back and tests positive again under those circumstances, the Maryland Jockey Club has made it pretty clear he's not going to be able to go in the Preakness.

Delouche: "How long could this process play out potentially? Any idea?

Schrupp: "Well, if it were normal circumstances, and these are far from normal circumstances, it might take a little bit longer. But they realize that they are under some pressure of some time here with two weeks between these two big races. So with that post-position draw being moved at the Preakness, I think that's an indication they're going to move things forward as quickly as possible."

Delouche: "My last question is for those who watch the race. What could this mean for the 1000s who did place wagers on horses that may have their positions change to winner-place-show if Medina spirit is disqualified, whether that happens in a week or in a month or when that could happen?"

Schrupp: "I'll be honest with you, Conroy, it's one of the parts of the game that frustrates me because this would not be the first time that a horse was disqualified because of a situation like this. Unfortunately, there is no recourse for the bettors. Those who may have bet Mandaloun, who is second, are not gonna be able to cash those tickets. On the other hand, you could also say, those people who bet on Medina Spirit at 12-1, are not going to have to get their money back either."