Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate is set to hear arguments this week about whether the suspension of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert should be stayed pending an appeal. Attorneys for Baffert and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will argue before Wingate on Wednesday, March 2 at 10 a.m. as to whether he should grant the stay of suspension Baffert requested.
Proceedings in court this week will not address whether the stewards’ ruling itself should be vacated, only whether Baffert can be compelled to serve the suspension as scheduled or not.
Baffert was suspended 90 days and fined $7,500 by Kentucky stewards for a betamethasone overage by trainee Medina Spirit after last year’s Kentucky Derby. The horse was officially disqualified from his win last week.
The commission made the somewhat unusual decision last week not to grant Baffert a stay for the suspension that is scheduled to begin on March 8 and run through June 5. Commissions will often grant stays, allowing trainers to delay serving a suspension if the case is under appeal, but are not bound by their regulations to do so.
A motion from Baffert’s legal team filed on Feb. 28 retreaded the evidence they have previously presented to the commission and also to the New York Racing Association in a separate legal fight about that entity’s right to exclude him. Much of the team’s claim focuses on the origin of the betamethasone in the horse’s system and argues that their evidence the drug came from a topical product will ultimately allow them to overturn the stewards’ ruling.
Regarding the common practice of the commission to grant stays, the memorandum filed with the court read in part: “This is in large part because the KHRC recognizes that irreparable harm will be suffered by licensees if they are forced to presently suffer the consequences of a ruling that is subject to being reversed later. For example, a trainer who is forced to serve days of a suspension now cannot ever get those lost days back if the ruling imposing the sanction is subsequently vacated or modified.”
The memo also points out that if the suspension is not stayed “Baffert’s appeal would be rendered moot” and that the trainer’s team believes there is “a substantial likelihood” he will prevail in his attempt to reverse the penalties.