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Churchill Downs Extends the Suspension of Bob Baffert Through 2024

Churchill Downs on Monday extended its suspension of the trainer Bob Baffert from the Kentucky Derby through 2024, asserting his continued unwillingness to accept responsibility for the failed post-race drug test of Medina Spirit, the 2021 Derby winner, demonstrates that Baffert “cannot be trusted to avoid future misconduct.”

The suspension also applies to other tracks owned by Churchill Downs.

In a statement, CDI Inc., the company that hosts the Derby, cited Baffert’s lengthy record of rules violations and his repeated contention that he did nothing wrong as reasons for extending the ban.

The company said it will re-evaluate Baffert’s status in 2025.

“Mr. Baffert continues to peddle a false narrative concerning the failed drug test of Medina Spirit,” according to the statement. Medina Spirit finished first in the 2021 Derby but was disqualified by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission after a positive test for betamethasone, a potent corticosteroid used to reduce pain and inflammation.

The statement said Baffert signed an agreement before the race saying he would abide by Kentucky racing rules. “The results of the tests clearly show that he did not comply, and his ongoing conduct reveals his continued disregard for the rules and regulations that ensure horse and jockey safety, as well as the integrity and fairness of the races conducted at our facilities,” the statement said.

In a statement posted to social media Monday evening, Baffert argued he did not flout the rules and could not have spread a false narrative because he had not made any public comments “for an extended period of time.”

“I am at a loss to understand Churchill Downs’ latest action to suspend me,” he said.

Baffert is one of the most accomplished and controversial trainers in thoroughbred history. His horses have won the Kentucky Derby six times and he has been named champion trainer four times. He is third on the career earnings list with more than $344 million in purses.

Baffert also has a lengthy record of rule violations. Horses that he trains have failed 30 drug tests over four decades — most notably Medina Spirit. That colt was only the second horse in the Derby’s 149-year history whose victory was revoked because of a drug violation.

The trainer has fought Churchill Downs and Kentucky regulators in state and federal courts. Betamethasone can be injected into the joints of horses to reduce pain and swelling. Baffert said the drug was in Medina Spirit’s system because the horse had been given a topical ointment for a skin lesion.

Other Triple Crown tracks honored Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert in 2021 and 2022, but Baffert returned to the Triple Crown this year at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. His horse National Treasure won the race, but only after another Baffert colt, Havnameltdown, tumbled to the ground in an undercard race with a with a leg injury and had to be euthanized on the track.

The incident further marred a troubled Triple Crown season in which a spate of racehorse deaths eroded the sport’s credibility with a public that was already concerned about the treatment of the animals and increasingly drawn to other forms of betting.

Last month, horse racing was suspended at Churchill Downs so state and federal regulators could continue to investigate the deaths of 12 horses — two of them on Kentucky Derby day — at the track in a five-week period.

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