Why was the Kentucky Derby winner disqualified?

The dust is still settling on the Kentucky Derby from 2021, despite the prep races for the 2022 Triple Crown opener being well underway. 

There is still so much controversy and questions that need answering before the race this year, with Medina Spirit’s disqualification from the race last year being announced just last month. 

So, why was the Kentucky Derby winner disqualified and just how does it impact the race this year?

Why Was Medina Spirit Disqualified?

Medina Spirit was trained by Bob Baffert and was the trainer’s leading chance for a record-extending Kentucky Derby victory in 2021. He warmed up for the race with a victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, before finishing second in both the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. Despite the strong form and Baffert’s record in the race, he was still largely seen as a 12/1 chance to win the Derby.

Medina Spirit produced an excellent performance in the race 12 months ago, as he led from wire to wire before holding off challenges from all corners to win by half a length from Mandaloun. There was some good fortune behind his winning run too, as heavy favourite Essential Quality was bumped twice when leaving the stalls, but still stayed on to finish fourth.

However, the controversy began shortly after the race, as it was revealed that he had been tested positive for a banned substance. The substance in question was the anti-inflammatory steroid betamethasone. He was able to run in the Preakness Stakes despite the finding and finished third. However, soon after he was banned by the NYRA, meaning that he couldn’t line up in the Belmont Stakes.

What Has Happened Since Kentucky Derby?

It has been a dramatic story followed by the racing world since Medina Spirit crossed the line first in the Kentucky Derby. Just seven days after winning the opening Triple Crown race, it was announced by Jimmy Barnes that the three-year-old had been found to have failed a drugs test by the Kentucky Horse racing Commission. 

Baffert refused these claims immediately and stated that the horse was never administered the drug. An independent DNA and follicle test were requested by Baffert, and he told reporters that he would fight the issue.

Churchill Downs reacted swiftly by banning all future Baffert-trained runners until the conclusion of the hearing. The trainer has made some astonishing claims since then, including his theory that Medina Spirit could have eaten contaminated hay. Before the end of May, Baffert’s team revealed that Medina Spirit had been treated with Onomax. However, Baffert’s team announced a second positive drugs test in early June, and that they had requested a third test.

Later in the same day, Churchill Downs announced all Baffert-trained horses would be banned from Churchill Downs tracks for two years before the Hall of Fame trainer requested further tests before the horse was disqualified from the race. 

Late last month it was revealed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that Medina Spirit had been disqualified from the Kentucky Derby, and Baffert was to be banned from making entrants to all races for 90 days. However, this was immediately appealed to by the trainer. As part of his disqualification, Mandaloun was upgraded as the winner of the Kentucky Derby.  

Medina Spirit’s Death 

Medina Spirit. Credit: cnbc.com

Medina Spirit continued to race throughout the second half of the season despite the ongoing court cases centring around his Kentucky Derby win. The three-year-old claimed a dominant victory in the G1 Awesome Again Stakes by five lengths, before heading to Del Mar to compete in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The three-year-old produced an excellent run, as he finished second behind Knicks Go. However, heartbreak for the racing world followed exactly a month afterwards, as it was announced that Medina Spirit had collapsed after a five-furlong workout. It was announced shortly afterwards that the three-year-old had passed away following a heart attack, with Baffert claiming that he was ‘heartbroken’.

What Does It Mean For Baffert & This Year’s Derby?

At present, Bob Baffert is banned from making any entrants for the Kentucky Derby this year. That is something that the Hall of Famer is still trying to fight, but due to the backlash, it is unlikely to be overturned by Churchill Downs. 

That means that we could see the first Triple Crown race this year without the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hero Corniche and the very impressive Messier. You can see who are the horses topping the odds of the Kentucky Derby this year here: https://www.bovada.lv/kentucky-derby 

However, Baffert isn’t above the rules, and if they have been broken, then he must do the time. That means that his 90-day racing ban should last as well as the ban that has been handed out by Churchill Downs. 

So, that means that he could yet return with his strong string at the second leg of the Triple Crown season and the Preakness Stakes. 

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