PETALUMA (KPIX) - The results of last week's Kentucky Derby are still unknown after the winning horse, Medina Spirit, tested positive for a banned race-day substance. But horse experts here in the Bay Area and across the country are pointing the finger at celebrity trainer Bob Baffert.
When Medina Spirit crossed the finish line first, all the credit went to Baffert. But the horse tested positive for an anti-inflammatory steroid called Betamethosone, which is not supposed to be in the animal's system on race day. When it showed up in the blood test, no one seemed very surprised.
"You can't have 29 bad tests and be innocent," said retired trainer Sid Balagruti. He opened a ranch in Petaluma to create a place for race horses to retire to, as well. He said he did it out of a sense of obligation.
"I broke horses down on the racetrack," he said quietly. "I'm trying to atone for that by giving these horses a chance."
Baffert, the sport's most successful trainer, has had 30 medical violations, with 5 in the last year, including in California. Sid thinks this latest violation may have been a mistake because he can't imagine anyone taking a chance on intentionally doping at the Kentucky Derby. But that doesn't mean he's excusing it.
"He's a Hall of Fame trainer," said Sid. "he should have an asterisk by his name, just like Barry Bonds."
Medina Spirit's blood sample will be retested for confirmation, but many think the punishment should be a lot harsher than just an asterisk. Marty Irby left horse racing to become Executive Director of an organization called Animal Wellness Action.
"I hope, and we will encourage the racing authorities to throw the book at him if they find this second test positive," said Irby. "They need to kick him out of horse racing if that's what happens."
He says a new federal law regulating drug use in horse racing might have made a difference, but it doesn't take effect until 2022. But Sid thinks, with all the money involved, even that won't stop it.
"Everybody's pushing the limit. There's so much competition," he said.
Medina Spirit didn't break down, but Sid said plenty of Baffert's horses have And he thinks that's the ultimate betrayal by any horseman.
"It's a matter of mistrust," he said. "The horses trust you to take care of them, but you really don't."
Baffert has denied giving the horse Betamethasone at all and said he doesn't know how it got into its system. While he waits for results from the second test, he said he plans to run Medina Spirit in the Preakness Stakes, the second race of the Triple Crown, on May 15th.
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