Breeders’ Cup welcomes Baffert despite suspension


Coach Bob Baffert was kicked out of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby after Medina Spirit failed a drug test in May, shortly after winning the 147th race of America’s biggest horse race . The New York Racing Association has renewed its efforts to ban him from its circuit.

So how can Baffert race eight horses for millions of dollars on the stock market on Friday and Saturday at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Southern California?

The coach has friends in high places: on the Breeders’ Cup, to be precise.

Baffert will saddle the horses of six of these Del Mar board members. Six others own horses in Baffert’s stable or stallions he has trained previously.

So it was no surprise, after a review and a board vote last month, that they decided that Baffert could compete in the Breeders’ Cup with the horses some of them own.

What did this review involve? Have any board members with financial ties to Baffert – all but two of the 14 – recused themselves from deciding his fate?

You are not allowed to know.

Breeders’ Cup president and CEO Drew Fleming declined to answer detailed questions from the New York Times, as did individual board members.

Instead, the organization has put Baffert on what amounts to the “secret double probation” that Dean Wormer passed on to the Delta fraternity in the movie “Animal House.”

Baffert’s horses, according to the organization, will be tested more often than those of his competitors. They will have extra eyes to watch them. And if either of them is positive for anything, the Breeders’ Cup board members will drop the hammer on Baffert.

They promise.

How did horse racing get here? Again?

Start with a decades-old doping culture, then add a lack of infrastructure (and will) to set and enforce rules. Finally, add decision making motivated by greed rather than concern for the health and safety of horses, riders and the public.

Outside of the events of the Triple Crown, horse racing only makes national headlines when tragedy and scandal is involved. There have been plenty of both recently – 30 horses dead in one season in Santa Anita Park and federal indictments accusing more than two dozen trainers and vets from Florida to New York of doping their animals.

By the way, all but a few pleaded guilty.

On Saturday, Medina Spirit will compete in the $ 6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the marquee and the final race of the two-day festival. Whether he wins or loses, horse players and casual sports enthusiasts alike will wonder if he ran drug-free.

The colt crossed the finish line first in the Derby on May 1, failing a post-race test for a banned corticosteroid on race day. This result has since been challenged in state and federal courts and may be for years to come.

To understand why Medina Spirit will be allowed to race, you have to understand Baffert’s outsized role in the races following the Classic.

In the $ 2 million Juvenile, the race that often produces the favorites of the Kentucky Derby the following year, there will be two colts trained by Baffert, Pinehurst and Barossa, who are co-owned by three members of the board of directors. of the Breeders’ Cup, including Barbara Banke, president and owner of Jackson Family Wines. Pinehurst was raised by a fourth board member, Fred W. Hertrich III.

The $ 1 Million Dirt Mile, $ 1 Million Filly & Mare Sprint, and $ 2 Million Distaff also feature horses owned by the board members and trained by Baffert. At stake is the purse money – 60 percent goes to the winner – plus the potential of tens of millions of dollars more for owners of Breeders’ Cup winning horses entering the breeding industry .

Foals have the potential to become stallions. The offspring of fast and pedigree mares are more expensive at thoroughbred auctions.

Baffert has shown that he adds value to horses.

Including the victory of Medina Spirit, Baffert won a record of seven Derbys, surpassing a record set by Ben Jones. He trained the two most recent Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018), both at Coolmore Stud, which is also represented on the Breeders’ Cup board.

Baffert is a member of the Sports Hall of Fame and is currently seventh in the national coaching rankings. He has trained horses that have failed 30 drug tests, including five in 13 months, including Medina Spirit.

Last year, the sport recognized it had a drug problem and supported federal legislation to address it.

The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act is expected to come into force next summer. He is asking that a board overseen by the Federal Trade Commission draft rules and sanctions to be enforced by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

The Breeders’ Cup and its board members (and Baffert’s employers) were strong supporters of drug-free racing. But they apparently decided that it made more sense to let themselves be pushed, rather than leap on their own, into a new era.

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