Medina Spirit tested positive during a drug test and its future in horse racing may be trampled. The horse’s recent victory in the Kentucky Derby is likely going to be rescinded, but Clark Brewster, the owner’s lawyer, is fighting back against the judges.
The horse then tested positive for the steroid betamethasone in its second post-race drug test, after originally testing positive for the banned substance on May 9. The UC Davis laboratory confirmed the betamethasone in the second sample, showing 25 picograms of the steroid nearly a month after the first test showed 21. This is more than enough to be considered a violation, and many are calling for the disqualification of the winning horse.
Mandaloun, the horse that finished behind Medina Spirit in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, is getting ready to take the title. Gamblers won’t see a payday from the title change, and Medina Spirit hasn’t lost the title just yet.
In a text message to The New York Times, Brewster said that the lab didn’t test for alternative compounds, “which could prove the trace positive came from an inadvertent and materially inconsequential contamination sourced from a topical ointment used to treat Medina Spirit for a skin lesion on his hip.”
According to the horse’s trainer, Bob Baffert, the test result is completely bogus. Though initially citing cancel culture for the uproar and likely disqualification, he has instead claimed that the incident is a misunderstanding. Baffert says the positive test result is due exclusively to an ointment he used to treat the horse, which subsequently contained betamethasone.
To fight the positive test, which could cost the horse its title, Brewster is pushing for a blood or urine sample to be tested, which wasn’t done during the second round of testing. The attorney believes that the blood or urine test could prove Medina Spirit’s innocence, proving instead that the positive test was a result of “an inadvertent and materially inconsequential contamination sourced from a topical ointment used to treat Medina Spirit for a skin lesion on his hip.”
Ultimately, the Kentucky Derby judges are likely to disqualify Medina Spirit if evidence instead points to an injection. Brewster is confident that a follow-up test will provide ample evidence to the contrary, that Medina Spirit was not injected by the corticosteroid.
If Medina Spirit does have traces of betamethasone in its blood or urine, the judges will likely disqualify the horse, marking the race’s second-ever disqualification. The first was issued in 1968 when a blood test revealed a banned anti-inflammatory in Derby winner, Dancer’s Image. With Medina Spirit disqualified, Mandaloun will take the title.
According to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regulations, however, a change in the title means nothing to gamblers. Those who backed the second-place horse won’t be refunded or paid, since the regulations state that “payments of valid pari-mutuel tickets shall be made on the basis of the order of finish as declared ‘official’ by the stewards or judges. A subsequent change in the order of finish or award of purse money that may result from a subsequent ruling by the stewards, judges, or commission shall not affect the pari-mutuel payout.”
ESPN reported that $115.4 million was bet on the Kentucky Derby pari-mutuel pool, including an estimated $11-12 million bet on Medina Spirit and $3-4 million bet on Mandaloun. Medina Spirit was set on 12-1 odds, and Mandaloun was off at 26-1, which could have meant an enormous payout if the second place had originally taken the title.
Despite the looming disqualification, Clark Brewster is very confident that the horse will not lose its Kentucky Derby title. “I think that will shed the light most prominently on the issue here for us,” Brewster explained, speaking about the blood or urine test. “The whole basis for listing betamethasone is because it’s injected into a joint and they want you not to inject the joints too close to the race, so the whole substantive basis is out the window if it’s a salve, and it can be proven scientifically and empirically to be the salve.”
The horse’s trainer, Bob Baffert, was suspended from entering horses at New York racetracks. Further investigation is required to prove his guilt. If Medina Spirit passes its third drug test, it’s likely that the horse won’t lose the Kentucky Derby title, but its reputation is certainly bruised.