Bob Baffert hoists the Kentucky Derby after Medina Spirit’s since-overturned victory
A U.S. District Court judge in Louisville, Ky., on Friday ruled against trainer Bob Baffert’s motion for injunctive relief against Churchill Downs Inc., which banned the Hall of Fame trainer from all of its racetracks for two years following a positive drug test for betamethasone in Medina Spirit, the first-place finisher in the 2021 Kentucky Derby who was subsequently disqualified.
Barring success in appellate court, the order from Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings will prevent Baffert from participating in the Kentucky Derby for the second year in a row despite the fact he trains several horses considered to be leading contenders for America’s most famous horse race – one he has won a record-tying six times. According to the conditions of the Derby, horses trained by anyone banned by Churchill Downs are not eligible to earn qualifying points in Road to the Kentucky Derby races at any track.
In 2022, prior to the final round of qualifying races, Baffert transferred two horses to trainer Tim Yakteen that then would earn points and run in the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs altered its nomination form language for the 2023 Derby, stating that horses must be transferred by banned trainers before March 1 in order to earn points and run in the Derby.
In a separate ruling, Jennings denied a motion from Baffert’s attorneys asking that the judge recuse herself from the proceedings because she is married to a lobbyist whose clients have included The Jockey Club and The Stronach Group – two horse racing entities not directly involved in the case.
Baffert attorneys contended in evidentiary hearings on Feb. 2-3 that Churchill Downs is a “state actor” because of “pervasive entwinement” between the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. They also argued that the track denied him due process. Jennings ruled against Baffert on the state actor contention and said the relationship between Baffert and Churchill Downs is governed by contract in the form of two documents the trainer signed: “Rules and Conditions for Racing and Training,” and a “Stall Application.”
Language in the stall application states “violations of the rules or regulations of the KHRC or the conditions, rules and regulations of Churchill or the creation, in whole or in part, by trainer of any condition that may interfere with the safe and efficient operation of its business … shall, in each case, subject this license to immediate revocation exercised at Churchill’s sole and exclusive discretion, without any prior notice.”
“Based on the Rules and Conditions for Racing and Training and the Stall Application,” Jennings wrote, “plaintiffs were not entitled to process before CDI could impose a suspension. …
“Accordingly, Baffert has failed to demonstrate two of the three elements required for a due process violation,” she continued. “Because plaintiffs have failed to show that CDI’s suspension was state action, and because plaintiffs have failed to prove a violation of due process, the court finds that plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim. This factor weighs against injunctive relief.”
Jennings ruled in favor of defendant Churchill Downs seeking dismissal of the case with the exception of one count, that alleging the trainer was denied his due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.