Baffert Prevails In Suit Over NYRA Suspension - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Baffert Prevails In Suit Over NYRA Suspension

Bob Baffert

After hearing attorney arguments on July 12, a U.S. District Court judge has ruled in favor of trainer Bob Baffert's motion for a preliminary injunction against the New York Racing Association's temporary suspension. Judge Carol Bagley Amon of the Eastern District of New York determined on July 14 that NYRA's suspension of Baffert should not have taken place without some sort of hearing allowing him to address the organization's accusations against him.

NYRA notified Baffert ahead of the Belmont Stakes that it was suspending his ability to enter horses in races or have stall space at its racetracks due to his recent history of medication violations, the conflicting statements he provided to media around the Media Spirit scandal, and Churchill Downs' suspension of the trainer.

Amon determined that the exclusion of Baffert from the Saratoga meet caused him significant harm, particularly as he was able to demonstrate several owners had withdrawn horses from his stable or planned to, based on the inability to start them in races there. She pointed out that the organization's suspension of Baffert had no time limit on it and was left open-ended with a final suspension length potentially coming some time after Aug. 11.

Although NYRA was asserting its private property rights in the case, Amon said the organization is closely entwined enough with the state that its suspension of Baffert constituted a state action, thereby requiring due process.

As to Baffert's history of recent drug violations in other states, Amon pointed out that NYRA has not taken similar actions against other trainers with similar records.

“…As uncontested data show, NYRA has permitted numerous trainers to race at NYRA this season who have medication violation histories comparable or more serious than Baffert's,” the ruling read. “These data belie NYRA's claim that integrity or safety demand the exclusion of someone with a violation record like Baffert's.”

Amon concluded that Baffert was entitled to notice and a pre-suspension hearing from NYRA or, in lieu of that, a prompt post-suspension hearing, although the organization did suggest it would allow the trainer to submit written arguments after informing him of the suspension.

“Numerous rules and regulations already safeguard the interests NYRA argues for here, and enjoining this suspension of Baffert will not prevent the continued enforcement of those rules,” Amon wrote. “The hardships that Baffert would suffer absent an injunction weigh heavily on the other side of the scale. The suspension is indefinite, and NYRA concedes at most that Baffert's claims might 'be decided within the year.' But the 2021 Saratoga meet is a one-time opportunity.

“…I am sensitive to NYRA's concerns about Baffert's involvement in the events surrounding Medina Spirit's Kentucky Derby performance, and the fear that history might repeat itself in New York. But for the reasons stated, the actual and substantial harm that Baffert will suffer absent an injunction outweighs the speculative harms that NYRA raises.”

In the wake of the ruling, NYRA issued a statement from its president and CEO, Dave O'Rourke.

“On May 17, 2021, at a time of crisis for the sport, the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) took emergency action to temporarily suspend Bob Baffert from racing or training at Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course. This measure was taken to protect the integrity of thoroughbred racing. NYRA will continue to honor that commitment so that fans, the betting public and racing participants can be confident in a level playing field.

“NYRA is reviewing the court's decision today to determine our legal options and next steps. What is clear, however, is that Mr. Baffert's actions and behavior can either elevate or damage the sport. We expect Mr. Baffert to exert appropriate controls over his operation.

“Importantly, the court upheld NYRA's authority to exclude individuals from its racetracks whose conduct is contrary to the best interests of thoroughbred racing. The court also rejected Baffert's argument that NYRA had no legal authority to take the action that it did.”

Read the ruling here.

Additional stories about Baffert's Kentucky Derby positive and ensuing legal battles can be found here.

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