Kentucky Commission Votes Not To Give Baffert A Stay - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Kentucky Commission Votes Not To Give Baffert A Stay

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert

At a special meeting called on March 4, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted to uphold a decision by KHRC executive director Marc Guilfoil not to grant a stay of trainer Bob Baffert's 90-day suspension for a betamethasone positive after last year's Kentucky Derby.

Ten commissioners — Frank Jones, Jr., Dr. Naveed Chowhan, Michael Dudgeon, Jim Gates, Jr., Greg Harbut, Douglas Hendrickson, Kenneth Jackson, Bill Landes, Mark Simendinger, and James Worley — voted not to grant the stay.

Three commissioners — Kerry Cauthen, Lesley Howard, and Charles O'Connor — abstained due to an actual or perceived conflict of interest.

One commissioner, Dr. Tom Riddle, did not have his vote registered by voice on the teleconference.

No commissioners voted to grant the stay.

It is now likely that Baffert will appeal the commission's decision to Franklin County Circuit Court, where it will be heard by Judge Thomas Wingate. Wingate held a hearing earlier this week in which he determined Baffert needed to take up Guilfoil's denial of the stay with the full commission before Wingate could legally rule on it in court. Wingate will hear arguments from both sides about the stay on March 17, and said he expected to issue a decision on March 21.

The commission voted after spending roughly 30 minutes in executive session, which was closed to the public. Attorneys for the respective sides were given ten minutes to present arguments, and were limited by a timer which appeared on screen for participants in the teleconference. Those arguments were made during the public portion of the meeting. Clark Brewster, who is part of Bob Baffert's legal team, presented his argument first and ultimately had his mic cut off when time expired.

Brewster said that a 90-day suspension would require Baffert to disband his stable of 88 horses, jeopardizing his 70 employees, dealing the operation “a virtual death blow.” Much of his arguments, however, focused on the question of whether Baffert could persevere in his attempts to appeal the ruling itself. Brewster reiterated his well-publicized argument that the presence of betamethasone in Medina Spirit came from a topical and not an injectable and as such, did not warrant a suspension.

He also raised questions about the process stewards used to make their ruling last week, disqualifying the horse, suspending Baffert, and fining him $7,500. Brewster pointed out that there were no 'findings of fact' attached to the ruling and as such, he doesn't know what evidence the stewards considered among the information presented to them.

Other recent rulings on the KHRC website do not include a section titled 'Findings of Fact.'

Brewster later distributed the following statement to media:

“KHRC's decision is a sudden, arbitrary departure from its own 100-year precedent and from the general practice of courts everywhere in the United States. Let's be clear: This is part of a continuing coordinated attack against Bob by powerful forces that are rife with ethical and business conflicts and that want to keep Bob's horses from competing against theirs at the track. We look forward to obtaining a stay in an impartial, unbiased court of law.”

“Let's also remember that the facts and law in the overall case are on Bob's side. Fact: Kentucky regulates only the injectable form of betamethasone acetate, and not the topical betamethasone valerate. Fact: Medina Spirit was treated with an ointment, not an injection. And fact: the amount detected could not have impacted the horse's performance or the outcome of the Kentucky Derby.”

Jennifer Wolsing, counsel for the KHRC, contradicted Brewster's portrayal of those facts.

In her argument, Wolsing made reference to Baffert's recent history of drug violations. Medina Spirit's overage was the fourth for the trainer in a 365-day period, following one in Kentucky for the same substance after Gamine's runner-up effort in the Kentucky Oaks. She also pointed to Baffert's public declarations at the end of 2020 that he would more closely oversee operations in his barn and welcome more veterinary input on how to clean up his protocols to prevent overages.

After he was notified about a pending positive for Medina Spirit, Wolsing said that “Mr. Baffert did not take responsibility, but instead began to hold press conferences advancing conspiracy theories, stating there was an unnamed problem in racing but it was not Bob Baffert, and shifting his story as to the source of the positive. The effect of this was to diminish trust in an entire industry — racing, breeding, and sales.”

Wolsing said that the commission is not required to grant a stay of suspension, but is allowed to when they find a “good cause” to do so.

She also disputed Brewster's assertion that the source of betamethasone would exempt this positive from punishment. The KHRC believes its regulations are clear that no level of betamethasone is permitted in a horse's body post-race, regardless of source — and that a topically-absorbed medication does, by design, enter a horse's body.

“Maybe this betamethasone did come from Otomax, and maybe it didn't,” she said. “When you look at our regulations, that doesn't make a difference. When you look at the science, it doesn't make a difference, either.”

Watch the full proceedings below.

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