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Bob Baffert vs Churchill Downs: A timeline of why the Hall of Fame trainer will miss another Kentucky Derby

The 150th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place at the famous Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville on Saturday, May 4. A notable absence from the first leg of the Triple Crown will be any Bob Baffert-trained horse. 

For the third consecutive year, Baffert will not be at the Kentucky Derby – a suspension that began with his record-breaking seventh victory at the race in 2021 that was later stripped because of a failed drug test.

Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer who is just one of two trainers to ever win the coveted Triple Crown on two occasions, has become considered by some an outcast in the horse racing community following the fallout of Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby victory in 2021.

May 2021 – Medina Spirit wins the Kentucky Derby

Baffert secured his seventh Kentucky Derby win on May 1, 2021, when Medina Spirit, the 3-year-old colt owned by Zedan Racing Stables, won the first leg of the Triple Crown by a half-length. The victory at Churchill Downs broke the record previously shared between Baffert and fellow Hall of Fame trainer Ben Jones.

Medin Spirit tests positive; Baffert suspended

Days after being declared the winner, it was announced on May 9, 2021, that Medina Spirit had failed a postrace drug test by testing positive for an excessive amount of the steroid betamethasone. Churchill Downs immediately suspended Baffert, who denied any wrongdoing.

“It is our understanding that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample indicated a violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols,” the racetrack said in a statement at the time. “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 was also later barred by the New York Racing Association, pending the investigation in Kentucky.

June 2021 – Baffert suspended long term 

Medina Spirit wins Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs announced on June 2, 2021, that Baffert would be suspended from entering a horse at the famed horse track for the next two years after a second postrace sample failed a drug test.

February 2022 – Medina Spirit stripped of Derby title

On Feb. 21, 2022, Churchill Downs officially recognized Mandaloun as the winner of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby after the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced that Medina Spirit was in violation of racing rules. Baffert was suspended and fined by the commission.


March 2022 – Baffert sues Churchill Downs

Baffert filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky against Churchill Downs, CEO William C. Carstanjen, and board Chair R. Alex Rankin on March 1, 2022, in an attempt to overturn the suspension, arguing that the famed horse trainer was not given the right to due process. 

“The facts are clear, and Churchill Downs knows them but refuses to acknowledge them,” an attorney for Baffert said at the time. “Churchill Downs knows the post-race test report occurred as a result of the use of a harmless ointment known as Otomax. They know it was prescribed by Medina Spirit’s treating veterinarian and properly and timely reported to the data bank the day it was dispensed. They know no rule was violated, and the ointment could never have enhanced Medina Spirit’s performance. To maintain otherwise is absurd.”

May 2023 – Case against Churchill Downs dismissed

Bob Baffert holds trophy

A federal judge dismissed the case against the Kentucky racetrack on May 25, 2023, after a previous attempt by Baffert’s legal team to lift the ban in February was denied. The decision came just days after a Baffert-trained horse won the Preakness Stakes, a record-breaking eighth victory in the race for 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 (sic),” Churchill Downs said in a statement following the ruling. 

“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.” 

Churchill Downs also said it reserved the right to extend Baffert’s suspension, a decision that would come at the end of his two-year ban.

July 2023 – Baffert’s suspension extended

Baffert’s suspension was extended through 2024, Churchill Downs announced on July 3.

“Mr. Baffert continues to peddle a false narrative concerning the failed drug test of Medina Spirit at the 147th Kentucky Derby from which his horse was disqualified by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in accordance with Kentucky law and regulations,” the racetrack said in a statement.

“A trainer who is unwilling to accept responsibility for multiple drug test failures in our highest-profile races cannot be trusted to avoid future misconduct. Mr. Baffert will remain suspended from entering horses at all racetracks owned by CDI through 2024. After such time, we will re-evaluate his status.”

January 2024 – Baffert moves on 

Bob Baffert looks on

Baffert announced on social media earlier this year that he instructed his attorneys to dismiss an appeal related to Medina Spirit’s disqualification in 2021.

“Zedan Racing owner, Amr Zedan, and I have decided that it is best to positively focus on the present and future that our great sport offers,” he wrote in a statement posted to X. “We thank the KHRC and Churchill Downs for listening and considering our point of view and we are grateful for the changes and clarity that HISA brings to our sport.”

April 2024 – Baffert-trained horse ineligible for 150th Kentucky Derby

Bob Baffert's horse

A Kentucky appeals court judge denied an appeal from Zedan that sought an emergency relief hearing that would allow Arkansas Derby winner Muth to run in the Kentucky Derby on May 4.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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