The Kentucky Derby is only a matter of months away, with Churchill Downs hosting the first of the Triple Crown races on Saturday, May 7th. However, this year’s race will be unlike any in recent history, as you won’t hear in today’s horse racing results the name of Bob Baffert.
Many of the big news stories in the build-up to the races are focused off the track, and in courts, as Bob fights to try and get a ruling that bans him from entering races at Churchill Downs for two years overturned. But, could the race miss the Hall of Famer, or has the right decision been made?
Why Is Baffert Banned?
Bob Baffert’s ban at Churchill Downs was ruled midway through 2021, after last year’s winner, Medina Spirit, returned a second test for a banned substance.
Other courses around the United States looked to take similar measures, but Baffert has fought back, which has led to an extended court case with the NYRA. However, that doesn’t seem to have much impact on the ruling that Churchill Downs has made.
Still, a final decision regarding whether Baffert-trained horses will be lining up in the Kentucky Derby has yet to be made The American is still confident that the ban will be overturned, which could enable current market-leader Corniche run in the race.
However, should that occur, then there will likely be widespread condemnation from all corners of the racing world. At present, Medina Spirit remains the seventh winner that Baffert has recorded in the race, but that could still yet be overturned. Any hope of an eighth this year looks incredibly unlikely due to the rightfully strong stance taken by Churchill Downs when it comes to doping in the sport.
Baffert-Trained Horses That Could Miss Out
One of the only aspects of the absence of Baffert-trained horses in the race that will be a miss is the quality of three-year-olds within his yard. It could mean that Triple Crown races after the Kentucky Derby arguably have a more competitive field to them. However, if Baffert is seen to have broken the rules, then those around him are likely to suffer as a result.
Like every season, the Hall of Famer has an incredibly competitive crop of horses on the Triple Crown trail, and all could have had an outstanding chance in usual years.
Corniche remains the horse at the top of the betting three months out from the Kentucky Derby, but has been unable to pick up prep points due to Baffert’s ban.
The three-year-old was simply sensational last year, which was topped with a stunning run in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; a race won by Essential Quality en route to success at the Belmont Stakes.
Newgrange is another seemingly on the road to the opening Triple Crown race of the season, without actually being able to win points. The three-year-old has been excellent on both starts this year, and is already a two-time stakes winner.
Most recently, he stormed to victory in the G3 Southwest Stakes. Pinehurst and Messier are others that are near the top of the betting for the Kentucky Derby that are trained by Baffert.
Decision Must Stand
The big decision that must be made over the next couple of weeks and months will be made regarding whether Baffert’s ban will be overturned.
However, there is a strong belief that the stance taken by Churchill Downs must stand in order to maintain that punishments are imposed on those that break the doping rules.
Historic records have shown that horses in Baffert’s yard have regularly failed drugs tests, with five violations found over 13 months, including Medina Spirit’s.
Other famous horses to have tested positive for banned substances in recent years include Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Gamine, who was disqualified after finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks.
Triple Crown winner Justify was later found to have had tested positive for having scopolamine in his body after winning the Santa Anita Derby in 2018.
Controversy continued to follow Baffert towards the end of last year, as Medina Spirit’s death following a heart attack while working out at Santa Anita meant that 74 horses in Baffert’s care had passed away since 2000. That includes the seven deaths from heart attacks at his Hollywood Park stables between November 2011 and March 2013.
Could The Decision Be Reversed?
As the betting for the Kentucky Derby suggests, it isn’t completely out of the question that the decision made by Churchill Downs could be overturned. However, it is likely to meet with backlash by fans, experts, and fellow trainers, as punishments need to be in place.
But, horse racing authorities around the US have regularly been weak when taking on Baffert,. Del Mar completely overlooked the case before the Breeders’ Cup last year, and Pimlico allowed Baffert-trained runners in the Preakness Stakes, despite the NYRA blocking Belmont Stakes runners.
Only time will tell how the Baffert case against the NYRA plays out, but fans from around the world will be hoping that it doesn’t overshadow what should be a thrilling Kentucky Derby this year.