The outcome of the Kentucky Derby could potentially be voided after winning horse Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test.
What Happened: Medina Spirit won the 147th running of the race on May 1, finishing a half-length ahead of runner-up Mandaloun. The victory placed Medina Spirit in contention for racing’s Triple Crown, which continues this Saturday with the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Track in Maryland and June 5 at the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York.
However, the postrace drug test of Medina Spirit found 21 picograms of the steroid betamethasone, a level that is double the legal threshold allowed by race tracks in Kentucky. Churchill Downs, Inc. (NYSE:CHDN) immediately suspended Medina Spirit’s trainer, Hall-of-Famer Bob Baffort from entering any additional horses from racings at its facility.
"Churchill Downs will not tolerate it," said the race track’s management in a press statement said, adding. "To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit's results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner."
Baffert vehemently denied treating the horse with betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory used to relieve joint pain in racehorses.
"I got the biggest gut-punch in racing, for something I didn't do," said Baffert in a press conference, adding the turn of events was "a complete injustice. I don't feel embarrassed, I feel like I was wronged."
What Happens Next: If the second drug test reaffirms the findings of the first test, Medina Spirit will be the second horse in three years to have its Kentucky Derby victory nullified. In 2019, first-place finisher Maximum Security was disqualified for interfering with other horses during the race.
This would also be the second time in Kentucky Derby history that a horse was disqualified for running with a banned substance. In 1968, Dancer’s Image victory was voided when the horse tested positive for the prohibited drug phenylbutazone.
Baffert has entered Medina Spirit in this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes and Pimlico officials have made no announcement on whether the trainer and his horse would be allowed to participate in the race; Dancer’s Image ran in the 1968 Preakness but lost.
Mandaloun is not entered in the race, thus preventing the horse from having a shot at the Triple Crown if it is given the Kentucky Derby victory.
What Doesn’t Happen: In the event Mandaloun is declared the Kentucky Derby winner, Churchill Downs bettors who put their money on Mandoloun to win will not be able to seek winnings because the track does not have a policy of reversing its payoffs.
The May 1 telecast of the Kentucky Derby was a ratings bonanza for Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) subsidiary NBC Sports, which drew nearly 15 million viewers. However, ratings for the Preakness could drop if Medina Spirit is denied the right to race for the second jewel in the Triple Crown series.
Baffert would be able to appeal a Churchill Downs disqualification of Medina Spirit, but a legal battle could be lengthy. The case of Dancer’s Image took four years to be settled, albeit not in the favor of the horse’s owners.
And We Don’t Know Why This Happened: Perhaps the oddest element of the story came from someone who (pardon the bad pun) didn’t have a horse in the race: former President Donald Trump.
In a statement issued by his office, Trump declared: "So now even our Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, is a junky. This is emblematic of what is happening to our Country. The whole world is laughing at us as we go to hell on our Borders, our fake Presidential Election, and everywhere else."
(Photo of Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle courtesy of the Kentucky National Guard.)