Dead Horse’s Medical Records Cast Light On Baffert’s Evolving Relationship With Betamethasone - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Dead Horse’s Medical Records Cast Light On Baffert’s Evolving Relationship With Betamethasone

Havnameltdown and Juan Hernandez winning the 2022 Best Pal

After the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert prohibited the use of the corticosteroid betamethasone for joint injections of horses in his barn.

Or did he?

The racing industry has heard Baffert run through his narrative of the days after he found out Medina Spirit had a positive test for betamethasone following the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Baffert initially reacted with shock to the news and held a press conference at his Churchill Downs barn to acknowledge the positive test and express his confusion and consternation about it. He later went on a mainstream media tour, suggesting there had been a mistake or some kind of foul play. Then, a few days later, his team put out a statement attributing the positive to Otomax, a prescription topical that Baffert says his employees were using to treat a skin rash on Medina Spirit. Betamethasone is an ingredient in Otomax.

Baffert has been asked, while under oath, to walk through his state of mind in those early days several times between civil legal proceedings with two different racetrack ownership groups and his ongoing appeal of Medina Spirit's disqualification by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. His story has always been the same — that he was disturbed that Gamine got a betamethasone positive in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks after receiving hock injections of the drug 18 days out from the race. The regulation at that time was that the drug was prohibited up to the limit of laboratory detection, which was supposed to be 14 days pre-race, and Baffert said the Gamine positive was proof that even while following the rules, he couldn't be safe. He has said he ordered all his veterinarians to stop using betamethasone for any kind of injections.

But medical records obtained by the Paulick Report for Baffert trainee Havnameltdown indicate that as of April 2023, his veterinary team was using the drug for joint injections.

Havnameltdown suffered a fatal injury to his left front fetlock during the running of this year's Grade 3 Chick Lang Stakes on the undercard for the Preakness, which Baffert would go on to win with National Treasure.

On April 16, 2023, records from Equine Medical Center show that Havnameltdown received injections of Hyvisc and Celestone in his stifles, and injections of Hyvisc and Kenalog in his hocks, in addition to Banamine, torbugesic and dromosedan.

The hocks and stifles are joints in a horse's hind limbs.

Hyvisc is a brand name for hyaluronic acid, which is a common additive to joint injections and is the same material that naturally occurs in joints to keep them lubricated. Celestone is the brand name for injectable betamethasone.

The administering veterinarian was Dr. Vincent Baker, who has long been Baffert's primary veterinarian in California.

The administration was in compliance with regulations and duly reported to officials in California.

A little more than eight weeks earlier, on Feb. 3, 2023, Baffert gave testimony at a preliminary injunction hearing in his civil suit against Churchill Downs Inc. in Kentucky Western District Court. CDI excluded Baffert from the Kentucky Derby and its qualifiers for two years after Medina Spirit's positive test due in part to the damage it claimed he had brought upon its brand from the positive and its aftermath.

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“But after Gamine tested positive for betamethasone on Churchill Downs' own track, as you're approaching the most important race in the history – most important race in horse racing, you didn't say to your doctor, 'Whatever we're putting on that horse, whatever we're putting in the horse's mouth, on its body, let's make sure it's not betamethasone.' You didn't say that, did you?” asked Orin Snyder, attorney for CDI.

“I did. Told all of my veterinarians to stay away from betamethasone and they – they followed the rules,” answered Baffert. “No intra-articular – they didn't inject – betamethasone to inject any of the horses.”

Later in the testimony, Baffert reiterated the statement to his own lawyer.

When asking about the aftermath of Gamine's positive, attorney Clark Brewster asked Baffert:

“And when you were informed of that, you didn't even contest it. It was resolved and you paid a fine; am I right?”

“That's right,” Baffert answered.

“And then did you have a statement to your vets and your staff after that – that rather startling first time ever in Kentucky – positive, did you say anything to them about betamethasone?”

“Yes. I said I didn't want betamethasone in my barn,” answered Baffert.

“Ever?” asked Brewster.

“Ever,” said Baffert.

In August 2022, during a proceeding before a hearing officer as part of his appeal of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's disqualification of Medina Spirit, Baffert said much the same.

“I do not want the use of betamethasone in my barn, and so they were all aware of it. We didn't — you know, do not inject these horses with betamethasone,” he said.

In January 2022, while sworn in before a hearing officer in his civil case against the New York Racing Association over their exclusion of him from their grounds, Baffert made the same point.

“I came back and I instructed all the veterinarians with [E]quine [M]edical that for – I want betamethasone – no more betamethasone injections,” Baffert said. “I want betamethasone out of my barn. And they all agreed on that. So there were no more betamethasone injections.”

Clark Brewster, attorney for Baffert, says that the implementation of national medication regulation made it possible for him to resume using the substance with confidence.

“Bob's statements about betamethasone use were expressly related to his policy following the Gamine picogram positive in September of 2020,” said Brewster in an emailed statement. “In spite of the KHRC rule of a 14-day stand-down period for corticosteroid joint injections –including Betamethasone and the fact that the treatment was given and duly recorded 18 days before the race, Bob was cited with a post-race positive. The KHRC rule applied to Bob for Gamine was enacted on August 25, 2020, only nine days from the race, making the 14-day rule truly arbitrary.

“Due to the confusion regarding the pharmacodynamics (effects and mechanism of action) and pharmacokinetics (detectability variability) Bob enacted a policy that betamethasone would not be used on any horse in his barn pending more scientific certainty on those issues.

“HISA enactment and HIWU governance has clearly made great strides in providing more reliable information and scientific guidelines to all treating race track veterinarians. Based upon the HIWU rules and studies Bob has placed his confidence of proper medications use on those experienced experts.”

The Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit was established to administer rules and enforcement of the HISA anti-doping and medication control program. The organization launched on March 27 of this year, but was put on pause by the Federal Trade Commission four days later. It did not resume until May 22, 2023 – two days after Havnameltdown's death, and more than a month after he received betamethasone injections.

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According to records from the California Horse Racing Board, Havnameltdown was placed on the CHRB veterinarian's list for two weeks beginning April 16, 2023 due to administration of an intra-articular injection. Seven other Baffert horses have also been placed on the list this year for intra-articular injections, although the drug used is not indicated on the public-facing list. Since Jan. 30, 2021, the date stewards disqualified Gamine from her finish in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, Baffert trainees have been added to the CHRB vet's list for intra-articular injections 36 times, although he does not have horses on the list for that reason for most of 2021.

When Baffert first learned about the positive in Medina Spirit in May 2021, he received a call from Kentucky chief steward Barbara Borden. A recording of the phone call – which Baffert has said he wasn't aware was being taken at the time – reflects his surprise and confusion at the time over the identity of the substance involved.

“Betamethasone, we don't touch that,” he had told Borden in May.

His first entry onto the CHRB vet's list for an intra-articular injection post-Gamine would follow on Nov. 8, 2021.

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