Federal Judge Dismisses Baffert Lawsuit Against Churchill Downs - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Federal Judge Dismisses Baffert Lawsuit Against Churchill Downs

Trainer Bob Baffert (left) and Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen

A federal judge in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday granted a motion for summary judgment filed by Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) and two of its key executives to dismiss Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's lawsuit attempting to overturn the two-year private property ban that effectively kept him out of the Kentucky Derby in 2022 and 2023.

Rebecca Grady Jennings, district judge for U.S. District Court's western district of Kentucky, Louisville division, had previously denied Baffert's motion for a preliminary injunction in advance of this year's Kentucky Derby and dismissed claims for unlawful exclusion, unlawful conspiracy in restraint of trade, unlawful use of monopoly power, tortious interference with contractual relations and tortious interference with prospective business relations. Left unsettled before the May 24 ruling was the claim by Baffert that there was a breach of his due process rights.

The suit, filed against Churchill Downs Inc., its chairman Alex Rankin, and CEO William Carstanjen, resulted from Baffert's two-year exclusion from all CDI properties imposed by the company after Medina Spirit tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone following his first-place finish in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. In its announcement that Baffert was being excluded, CDI referenced multiple medication violations by Baffert in a relatively short time span. The CDI ban ends when the Churchill Downs spring-summer meet concludes on July 3.

Medina Spirit, who later in the year died after a workout at Santa Anita, was disqualified from the win, and Baffert received a separate suspension of 90 days from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that he served last spring.

In her memorandum opinion and order, Judge Jennings said Baffert's attorneys failed so show during a two-day evidentiary hearing Feb. 2-3 that Baffert's trainers license was “rendered valueless” because of the suspension, since he won over $1 million racing horses at other Kentucky tracks in 2022, principally Keeneland. “Therefore,” Jennings wrote, “plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that they were deprived of a property interest – a necessary element of their due process claim.

“Plaintiffs have failed to produce specific evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact that would allow a reasonable jury to find in their favor at trial. … Because plaintiffs cannot prevail on the first element of their due process claim,” she wrote, “the court will not continue to examine additional arguments.”

Clark Brewster, an attorney for Baffert, said the order for summary judgment will be appealed. “The ruling was the last hurdle cleared to enable a presentation to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which we look forward to,” Brewster said via text message.

On Thursday, Churchill Downs Inc. issued the following statement:

“Churchill Downs is pleased that the Court granted our Motion for Summary Judgement in the Civil Action brought against our company, CEO and Board Chairman by Bob Baffert, resolving in our favor the last remaining claim, just as the Court had ruled in our favor on all of his previous claims. While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.

“Our actions to suspend Mr. Baffert following Medina's Spirit's confirmed positive for a prohibited race-day substance, coupled with his extensive history of drug violations, was done in the best interest of protecting the integrity of horseracing. Now more than ever, participants and operators in this industry must individually and collectively assume responsibility to take every reasonable measure to protect our equine and human athletes and reject any practice that jeopardizes that mission.

“We are encouraged that the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) Program has gone into effect this month which will allow uniform rules to govern the industry and expedite both the testing and adjudication process which has historically created confounding delays and threatened the confidence and trust of our fans.

“As we stated when we suspended Mr. Baffert in June 2021, we reserve the right to extend his suspension and will communicate our decision at the conclusion of the initial two-year suspension period. This U.S. District Court ruling in our favor is a victory in our ongoing actions and steadfast commitment to protecting the safety of our equine and human athletes.”




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