The beleaguered American trainer Bob Baffert has been handed a temporary injunction which will enable him to enter runners at New York’s three racetracks.
He is under investigation for a variety of offences largely linked to the doping of his horses, including the Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) took the decision to ban him from entering runners at its Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct venues.
Baffert’s legal representative, Craig Robertson, had argued that his client had suffered ‘irrefutable harm’ in the face of the ongoing investigation into his activities, and the United States District Judge Carol Bagley-Amon agreed – stating that the trainer had been denied due process by the NYRA.
The major-winning trainer has served a suspension of two months in New York, with the authorities there banning him in the aftermath of Medina Spirit’s failed drugs test.
And Robertson claims those who have acted against Baffert were too hasty to do so.
“I have said from the beginning that, following the Kentucky Derby, there was an improper rush to judgment and Mr. Baffert has been treated unfairly,” he said.
“This is one step, in one venue, toward righting those wrongs.”
Amon’s conclusion was that Baffert had been denied due process, which essentially refers to the fair treatment of an individual through the judicial system, and is ‘entitled’ to a pre-suspension hearing.
There is now the very real possibility that Churchill Downs, who had barred Baffert from running entries at their tracks until the summer of 2023, may also have to stand down to avoid legal challenges of their own.
A trainer with a chequered history of failed drugs tests, Baffert once again rose to notoriety when his Kentucky Derby winning horse Medina Spirit delivered a positive result for corticosteroid betamethasone after his win.
The trainer has always maintained that the drug was administered accidentally as part of an ointment to treat a skin condition, and while it is permitted for such therapeutic uses it is strictly prohibited from being found in a horse’s blood on the day of a race.
Further tests are being run to determine the likelihood of accidental administration of foul play, with further bloods and urine samples taken.
Until a final conclusion is found, the NYRA was seeking to ‘preserve the integrity of racing’ by banning Baffert until/if he is found not guilty – as such, he was banned from entering the Belmont Stakes in June.
The NYRA’s president and chief executive, Dave O’Rourke, was unrepentant in his decision to ban Baffert.
“NYRA is reviewing the court’s decision today to determine our legal options and next steps,” he said.
“What is clear, however, is that Mr. Baffert’s actions and behaviour can either elevate or damage the sport. We expect Mr. Baffert to exert appropriate controls over his operation.
“Importantly, the court upheld NYRA’s authority to exclude individuals from its racetracks whose conduct is contrary to the best interests of Thoroughbred racing. The court also rejected Baffert’s argument that NYRA had no legal authority to take the action that it did.”