Medina Spirit Appeal Inches Forward; Hearing Officer’s Decision Expected Sometime In April – Horse Racing News


The long-running appeal by Bob Baffert and Zedan Racing of the disqualification of Medina Spirit from the 2021 Kentucky Derby continued this week. Attorneys for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the Zedan/Baffert team presented oral arguments before a hearing officer via Zoom on Tuesday.

This marks the second hearing officer to hear proceedings in the case. The first listened to six days of testimony on the case in August and recused himself three weeks later after Zedan attorney Clark Brewster discovered he unknowingly bought a yearling at auction that had been co-owned by the hearing officer.

Eden Davis Stevens, deputy director for the Kentucky Office of Administrative Hearings, was appointed in October to replace the original officer and requested both sides present time-limited oral arguments. In this situation, hearing officers may choose to have both sides present evidence and witnesses all over again, or they may opt to read transcripts of the previous hearing.

Zedan appealed the horse’s disqualification from the Derby, while Baffert wants the $7,500 fine and 90-day suspension he already served to be erased from his record. Stewards issued their decision regarding disqualification, suspension, and fine in February 2022. Baffert and Zedan appealed that decision, which is why the case is now before a hearing officer. The hearing officer will make a recommendation to the commission on whether or not to uphold the stewards’ original decision, and the commission may vote on whether to accept or reject that recommendation.

The arguments from both sides are now familiar. Among other issues, the Baffert/Zedan legal team contends that the betamethasone found in samples taken from Medina Spirit after the Derby came from a topical ointment and not an injection and thus are not subject to the commission’s regulations on betamethasone. They also argue that at the level detected, betamethasone didn’t have an impact on the horse’s body.

The commission contends that their regulations on betamethasone and other drugs do not change based on route of administration or likelihood of impact on racing performance. Counsel for the commission also alleges that Baffert has a unique history of repeated drug violations — particularly betamethasone violations — in Kentucky and cited his ever-shifting explanations for the drug’s presence as aggravating factors when viewing this violation.

Little new information was presented during Tuesdays’ proceedings. The commission did play a clip of a recorded phone conversation between Kentucky stewards and Baffert which took place when they notified Baffert of the positive test and subsequent search of his barn at Churchill Downs.

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“We are taking all the salves and ointments and sprays and all the things like that,” chief steward Barbara Borden can be heard saying. “We’re having them all tested ourselves. There may have been something in there you guys weren’t aware of.”

“We’re not that stupid,” Baffert replied.

Everything from laboratory procedure to out-of-competition results to inter-staff communications has been scrutinized in this case. Thanks to documents obtained through prior Freedom of Information Act requests, the Paulick Report has examined some of that evidence in previous reporting, including this story on the testing to establish whether the betamethasone came from an injection or an ointment, this story on Medina Spirit’s out-of-competition test results, and this analysis of communication between staff and attorneys as the case stretched on behind closed doors.

Stevens said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s proceedings that she anticipated issuing a decision “sometime in April.”

A replay of the proceedings is available below: