FRANKFORT, Ky. — Attorneys for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert argued in a Kentucky court Thursday that a 90-day suspension imposed by the state’s racing commission would essentially end his career.
Baffert is asking a judge to delay the suspension for a failed postrace drug test by Medina Spirit that led to his disqualification as last year’s Kentucky Derby winner.
Baffert’s attorneys argued the suspension should not be imposed until he has had a chance for an appeal hearing with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. That hearing is scheduled for April 18. Baffert was not in the courtroom Thursday.
“If he’s forced to serve his suspension now he’s never going to get those days back if he wins on appeal,” Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, said Thursday. “We’re talking 90 days that would take place over the entirety of the Triple Crown” of horse racing, which includes the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes run in May and June.
Robertson said the suspension would ban Baffert from racing anywhere and force him to dismantle his business.
Baffert is also suing Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, in federal court to challenge a two-year suspension from the Louisville track.
Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate said he would issue a ruling Monday on the request to delay Baffert’s suspension. Wingate said whatever his decision is, it would certainly end up in the state Court of Appeals.
Lawyers for the horse racing commission on Thursday called Baffert’s conduct “unprecedented” and said he had four medication violations in a year’s time, including two in Arkansas where Baffert paid a $10,000 fine.
“He went on a spree” of violations,” attorney Jennifer Wolsing said. Baffert “presents an elevated risk of re-offense.”
Baffert has argued that the steroid in Medina Spirit came from a topical ointment, rather than an injection, which is banned. But horse racing officials said in court Thursday that no matter the source, the corticosteroid betamethasone was found in the horse’s system on race day, which is not allowed.
The horse racing commission denied a request from Baffert to delay his suspension earlier this month. The suspension was set to begin on March 8 but that was delayed pending Judge Wingate’s decision.
In February, racing commission stewards suspended Baffert for 90 days with a $7,500 fine and disqualified Medina Spirit for having the corticosteroid betamethasone in his system last May.
Medina Spirit died in December from what Baffert said was a heart attack following a workout. A necropsy revealed no definitive cause for his death.