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Bob Baffert returns to Santa Anita Park after suspension expires

John Cherwa, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Horse Racing

It wasn't as difficult on the horses as Baffert transferred most of them to Sean McCarthy, who just moved into the same space and kept most of Baffert's employees. McCarthy's wife, Kim, is Baffert's office manager, so everyone knew all the players. Four of Baffert's better horses were moved to Yakteen, his former assistant, who qualified two of them for the Kentucky Derby and another for the Preakness.

"They did a great job," Baffert said of his relief trainers. "They came in there and took over. It was tough. I was proud of them how they kept it together. And most of my clients, they stuck with me.

"I lost some horses. Some owners are still waiting [to see what happens]. I lost [2-year-old Eclipse winner] Corniche," who moved to the barn of Todd Pletcher. "That hurt. All in all, I've got great group of owners. They hung there in there with me, they know the truth and the facts."

The truth and the facts will ultimately be decided through litigation. Baffert is currently banned from Churchill Downs until after next year's Kentucky Derby. He also has been excluded from racing in New York until January, even though he has had no violations in the state for the almost three decades he has raced there. Pending court cases and hearings are aplenty, including restoring Medina Spirit as winner of the Kentucky Derby. The colt was stripped of the title by the KHRC. He died in December of what was thought to be a cardiac event. The necropsy could not definitively determine the cause of death.

The problems started when Baffert was dealing with a stretch of four medication violations in a little more than a year. Two were in Arkansas, the result of contamination, something a trainer has no control over. One was in California and the other in Kentucky. Baffert had explanations for all of them, but the totality of them painted a troublesome picture.

Then came the Kentucky Derby, which Baffert won with longshot Medina Spirit. A week later, word was spreading that the colt had tested positive for a legal medication that is not allowed on race day.

 

"When they hit me with it, I knew my life would change," Baffert said. "We knew it that day. I was at a point in my life where I had just won my seventh Derby and I was just cruising. And then that happened."

Baffert went on the offensive, vigorously denying there could be a failed test. It's a move he now questions.

"If I had to do anything different, I wouldn't have had a press conference," Baffert said. "But it was out there and [the media] was waiting. … I was trying to get ahead of it. I was convinced after talking to my veterinarians, that [the positive] was impossible. Then it dawned on them 48 hours later, be careful with the [ointment] Otomax."

Baffert's legal team has contended that Medina Spirit was treated with an ointment that contained betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory, to control a rash on the horse's hind quarter. It's the team's belief that the rule prohibiting a positive betamethasone test on race day applies only when the medication is injected, the usual application, not applied in an ointment.

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