THE Kentucky Derby. The fastest two minutes in sports. This year, it’s been the longest, saddest, most divisive seven months in history.
Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby winner tested positive for betamethasone back in May.
Trainer Bob Baffert said he didn’t know how it got there, then reversed and blamed a topical ointment used for a skin rash. Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association banned Baffert. The race result has been in question ever since. An unresolved case, waiting for closure.
Sadly, there was a different form of closure three weeks ago when Medina Spirit died of an apparent heart attack after a timed workout at Santa Anita Park.
My cohorts, Tom Law and my brother Joe, have banned me from using the word nadir. They say I use it too much, too often, too flippantly.
Go ahead and look it up – “the lowest point in fortunes of a person or organisation.” Perhaps, I have overused it. Evidently, I’m an optimist and think it couldn’t possibly get worse for thoroughbred racing. Oh, how naïve. Do I dare say, this is the nadir?
In a story that seemingly couldn’t get worse, it got worse. Way. Worse.
For Baffert, it’s surely the nadir. Sadly, or rightly, the jig is up for the Hall of Fame trainer.
The 68-year-old does not and will not get the benefit of the doubt anymore (remember his vow to do better while saying he had done nothing wrong at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup?).
There is a long list of equine deaths on Baffert’s watch. A long list of medication positives, from bute to betamethasone, lidocaine to dextromethorphan, all the way to scopolamine for Triple Crown winner Justify.
A kind-of-swept-under-the-rug report of sudden deaths to seven horses in Baffert’s care back in 2011-13, blamed on a thyroid medication, still lingers. A medication positive, albeit a minor overage, in a race as prestigious as the Kentucky Derby… and now the Derby winner dead on the track. All for a high-profile, borderline irreverent personality of a beleaguered sport within a split-second world of social media and internet blitz. That’s reality.
Baffert cries foul. His fans, his sycophants, say it’s unfair. Plenty of his owners, the ones who have reaped the rewards, stand by him. Blame the media. Blame the testing lab. Blame the help. Blame contamination. Blame the conspiracists. Blame the counter culture, er, cancel culture, or whatever inane thing that Baffert said in a hastily called news conference after the news broke in May.
Blame who you want. What you want.
And, for the record, Baffert is not being accused of or has he ever been accused of high-octane doping like the embattled Jason Servis, and convicted Jorge Navarro and others who could and will go to jail for their transgressions.
At worst, Baffert is cheating and risking the health of his horses. At best, he’s sloppy, using skin creams with banned substances on horses running in the Kentucky Derby.
And now Medina Spirit is dead. An overachiever with an asterisk. Gone. Poof. An apparent heart attack after a morning breeze. Toxicology reports, necropsy results will take months.
And the sad, sordid tale of the 2021 Kentucky Derby will linger longer than the horse who deserved better.