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Horse racing's household name will miss the 150th Kentucky Derby. Bob Baffert is exiled for 3rd year

Kentucky Derby-Baffert Explainer Horse Racing
Posted at 3:08 PM, Apr 29, 2024

The 150th Kentucky Derby is missing horse racing’s household name: Bob Baffert.

The Hall of Fame trainer with a record-tying six victories won't be saddling a contender in Saturday's Run for the Roses for the third consecutive year.

Kentucky Derby-Baffert Explainer Horse Racing
FILE - Real Quiet trainer Bob Baffert strikes a quarterback pose with the Kentucky Derby trophy after Real Quiet with jockey Kent Desormeaux up won the 124th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Ky., May 2, 1998. Baffert will miss the race for the third consecutive year. He served a two-year suspension by Churchill Downs Inc. after his 2021 winner Medina Spirit was disqualified for a failed drug test. But the track’s corporate ownership meted out an additional year of punishment. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke, File)

Last July, Baffert had another year tacked on to his two-year suspension by Churchill Downs Inc., which was set to expire in 2023. The additional punishment came despite no positive drug or medication tests involving the 71-year-old trainer's horses during that time.

CDI imposed the original penalty after Baffert’s 2021 Derby winner, Medina Spirit, flunked a post-race drug test. The colt tested positive for a legal medication that isn’t allowed on race day in Kentucky. Medina Spirit was later disqualified.

That led to two years of lawsuits, but Baffert failed in his attempts to be reinstated by Churchill Downs or have Medina Spirit’s victory restored. In January, Baffert said he was dropping his legal challenges against CDI. His move didn't thaw the frosty relations between the two sides.

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“A trainer who is unwilling to accept responsibility for multiple drug test failures in our highest-profile races cannot be trusted to avoid future misconduct,” CDI said in extending the suspension. “Mr. Baffert will remain suspended from entering horses at all racetracks owned by CDI through 2024. After such time, we will re-evaluate his status.”

The suspension prevented any Baffert horse from accumulating Derby qualifying points, which decide the 20-horse field for the race.

Kentucky Derby-Baffert Explainer Horse Racing
FILE - Trainer Bob Baffert watches a workout at Churchill Downs Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Baffert will miss the race for the third consecutive year. He served a two-year suspension by Churchill Downs Inc. after his 2021 winner Medina Spirit was disqualified for a failed drug test. But the track’s corporate ownership meted out an additional year of punishment. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Did Baffert have horses in the last two Derbies?

Technically, no.

The last two years, the owners of Baffert's top contenders transferred their horses to another trainer so they could run in the Derby. But this year, in evidence of their loyalty to Baffert, none of them did so.

Owner Amr Zedan made a last-ditch effort to try to get Arkansas Derby winner Muth into the 150th Derby. He sued in early April.

However, the Kentucky Court of Appeals recently denied a motion for a temporary injunction that would have allowed Muth into the race despite the suspension of Baffert, who was not a party to the lawsuit.

Zedan owned Medina Spirit, who died after a workout in December 2021. No definitive cause of death was found.

Has the suspension affected Baffert's career?

Not really. Despite hits to his reputation, Baffert is still highly sought out by deep-pocketed owners eager to have him train their high-priced horses. However, being shut out of the Derby has to sting since he has always been effusive about the first Saturday in May and considers it the pinnacle of the sport.

Kentucky Derby-Baffert Explainer Horse Racing
FILE - Trainer Bob Baffert stands outside his barn at Churchill Downs Monday, May 2, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Baffert will miss the race for the third consecutive year. He served a two-year suspension by Churchill Downs Inc. after his 2021 winner Medina Spirit was disqualified for a failed drug test. But the track’s corporate ownership meted out an additional year of punishment. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, FIle)

He won the Preakness last year with National Treasure, his 17th victory in a Triple Crown race. Earlier that day, one of his horses was injured in a race on the undercard and had to be euthanized. He had purse earnings of over $12.6 million for the year.

He won the $12 million Dubai World Cup with Country Grammer in 2022.

What's next?

Some wags are calling it Kentucky Derby 149 1/2 in a nod to the absence of Baffert's talented colts. As a result, some believe the stronger race will be the Preakness on May 18.

Baffert can enter horses in the Preakness and the Belmont at Saratoga on June 8. He nominated 18 horses to the Triple Crown series, so any of them are eligible for the last two legs.

Among his top prospects are Muth and Imagination, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up. Both have been training at Santa Anita in California ahead of their next starts.

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By BETH HARRIS (AP Racing Writer)
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