We reported previously on Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit testing post-race positive for the steroid betamethasone. At first, Medina Spirit’s famed trainer Bob Baffert insisted the test results must be errant, followed by a weird admission that Medina may have been treated with a skin ointment containing the banned performance-enhancing drug. In short, he feigned innocence, despite this being the latest in several horses he’s trained to come down with a case of the failed drug tests.
As we noted, horse racing law requires that all bets be finalized and honored fully and solely based upon posted results at the track. Meaning, if a horse is disqualified after the fact for a failed drug test, the betting results of the race do not change. Medina Spirit paid out as the winner and that can’t be changed. While all horse bettors are familiar with this painful rule, that doesn’t mean it was an easy pill to swallow for people who lost money on their wages due to a cheating horse team.
Now, at least two bettors are suing Bob Baffert and Churchill Downs to recover the money they would’ve won had Medina Spirit’s first-place finished been expunged prior to posting the results. The upset gamblers claim that the level of fraud involved in Baffert’s repeated violations of the drug policy rules, and the manner in which the tracks continue to allow him to operate, present some kind of overt level of deceit by the powers that be in horse racing.
To put it bluntly, these laws suits have no chance. However scheming Baffert may be, and however the horse racing industry may continue to coddle him, that’s a morality issue at the moment, not legally relevant to the gambling laws involving horses disqualified for cheating after the fact. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to feel pretty bad for the respective plaintiffs. The first group of plaintiffs claims they lost $54,000 due to Medina Spirit and Baffert PED use; while a second bettor group suing claims their losses were near a million dollars. Neither has presented proof of such claims, even if they hold little legal merit.
“As horseplayers, we’re used to being abused and mistreated. We’re always left holding the bag and there never seem to be any consequences for those who are in a position to prevent something like this from happening but won’t. This lawsuit is about more than just the money. It’s way past time that trainers and racetracks get held to account for their actions and failures. My hope is that this lawsuit will change the way things are done and change behavior.”– Anthony Matteria, lead plaintiff in the second lawsuit filed against Baffert, et. al.
Both plaintiff teams have admitted their odds of prevailing are long. Though both have additionally requested in their lawsuits that Bob Baffert be banned from the sport due to his repeated violations. While NBCSports and the horse racing world were ballyhooing Baffert’s new title of most Kentucky Derby wins in history for any trainer, far less attention was paid to his mounting PED disqualification cases.
While it’s hard to compare horse racing to other sports, if Baffert had been caught cheating in this manner this number of times in any other major sport that tests for banned substances and non-approved steroids, he would surely be well past the lifetime ban threshold. So why is he allowed to keep plying his trade in horse racing? “It’s Chinatown, Jake,” may be the best answer.