Baffert suspended in New York; Rice has license revoked

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Trainer Bob Baffert, right, celebrates with the connections of McKinzie after winning the 2019 Whitney at Saratoga.

Trainer Bob Baffert, right, celebrates with the connections of McKinzie after winning the 2019 Whitney at Saratoga.

The New York Racing Association has indefinitely suspended Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert from entering horses and from occupying stall space at NYRA tracks in the wake of a drug positive for Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit.

On a busy day in New York for serious penalties to Thoroughbred trainers, the announcement came not long after the New York State Gaming Commission revoked Linda Rice’s license to train for three years and fined her $50,000 for “actions inconsistent with and detrimental to the best interest of racing generally and corrupt and improper acts and practices in relation to racing.”

That stemmed from allegations that Rice had paid off officials in the NYRA racing office for confidential advance race entry information that could constitute a competitive advantage.

Baffert’s penalty from NYRA was served 16 days after Medina Spirit tested positive for a small amount of betamethasone, a therapeutic anti-inflammatory that is legal, but neverthless must completely clear a horse’s system by race day.

The horse won the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1, tested positive on May 2 and then passed three rounds of further tests last week in order to be eligible to run in the Preakness on Saturday at Pimlico, where he finished third behind Rombauer.

Baffert, who was suspended from entering horses at Churchill because of the Medina Spirit positive, has called for a split sample of the horse’s post-race blood work from the Derby, but that result is not expected for several weeks. If the second sample comes back positive, Medina Spirit would be disqualified from his Derby win, which would be handed to runner-up Mandaloun.

In the meantime, NYRA has temporarily suspended anyone employed by Bob Baffert Racing Stables from entering horses or bringing horses onto the grounds at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack.

“In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a press release. “That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”

Baffert is based in California and typically ships horses to New York for big stakes races on a spot basis.

He won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018, as both took the third leg in the Belmont Stakes.

This year’s Belmont is scheduled for June 5, and one of Baffert’s top horses, Charlatan, had been under consideration for the Grade I Met Mile on that card.

It wasn’t until eight days after Churchill announced Medina Spirit’s positive test that Baffert publicly acknowledged the presence of betamethasone in the horse, theorizing that a dermatitis ointment applied for a rash twice in April was the source.

NYRA said Baffert’s suspension wasn’t solely rooted in the ongoing Medina Spirit investigation, taking into account “the fact that other horses trained by Mr. Baffert have failed drug tests in the recent past, resulting in the assessment of penalties against him by thoroughbred racing regulators in Kentucky, California, and Arkansas.”

Those include two of the bigger names in his barn right now, Charlatan and Gamine, who tested positive after races on the Arkansas Derby card in 2020 and were disqualified from their respective victories.

Those wins were restored by the Arkansas Racing Commission last month after Baffert’s lawyers raised questions about what they perceived to be discrepancies in the testing process.

In January, the California Horse Racing Board upheld Justify’s victory in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby — his last race before embarking on the Triple Crown trail — despite a post-race positive test for scopolamine.

Rice has been under investigation by the NYSGC since 2018, which turned up evidence that two former entry clerks had supplied her with names of horses prior to draw time for races from 2011 to 2015.

The final report from an eight-day hearing in November was submitted to the NYSGC last month, and the ruling was delivered Monday afternoon.

Via Twitter, the NYSGC announced that the report “concluded that Ms. Rice’s misconduct involved receiving and request for confidential entry information in overnight races was intentional, serious and extensive.

“It also concludes that her actions constituted improper and corrupt conduct in relation to racing in violation of NYCRR 4042.1 and were inconsistent with and detrimental to the best interests of horse racing.”

In a 5-0 vote, the NYSGC agreed with the penalty proposed by the hearing officer.

During her testimony at the hearing in November, Rice provided financial records and claimed that some of the checks of about $200, each made out to a wide variety of track workers, were intended as Christmas gifts.

She also said one made out to chief examining veterinarian Dr. Anthony Verderosa in 2009, after she had won the Saratoga training title, was in appreciation of his work that season.

Rice took out her trainer’s license in 1987 and has consistently been in the top 50 in wins and earnings in North America since 2013.

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