By Dick Jerardi

The Kentucky stewards Feb. 21 ruling was clinical. It read: “sample No. E427258, taken from Medina Spirit who finished first in the 12th race at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2021, contained betamethasone in the blood (Class C drug) (fourth medication violation in 365 days in any racing jurisdiction.’’

That 12th race, of course, was the Kentucky Derby. So this was no ordinary positive test.

The stewards ruled that Medina Spirit’s trainer Bob Baffert be suspended for 90 days (March 9-June 5) and fined $7,500 and that Medina Spirit be disqualified and all purse money forfeited.

So there it was, nearly 300 days after Baffert himself announced that he had been notified of the positive test for an overage of the anti-inflammatory, Mandaloun is now being recognized by Churchill Downs as the official winner of the Kentucky Derby, with Hot Rod Charlie second and  Essential Quality third.

There is that and there is what happens next. All of this will be appealed and almost certainly will end up in court. While Baffert is appealing his suspension, he can still train and run horses, assuming he gets a stay which is typical in these cases. Medina Spirit’s owner will also appeal his horse’s DQ.

Not sure how long all this will take, but after Derby winner Dancer’s Image was DQ’d in 1968 for having then illegal (long since legal) Bute in his system, those legal appeals took four years until Forward Pass was, once and for all, declared the official Derby winner.

So, what do I think? Frankly, I am not sure what to think.

I understand the stewards’ decision. The rules in Kentucky state that no amount of betamethasone can be in a horse’s system on race day. (It is legal for a horse to have it in his system during training).

I also understand there is some nuance here, as Baffert’s attorney Clark Brewster pointed out in his statement after the ruling, saying that, in his opinion, the Kentucky rules only consider betamethasone illegal if it is administered into a horse’s joint, saying that Medina Spirit was treated with an ointment, not an injection.

That was Baffert’s argument in a hearing a week before the decision. The stewards’ obviously disagreed.

After initially saying Medina Spirit was never treated with betamethasone last May, Baffert then said he did not realize the drug was an ingredient in Otomax, an ointment they were using to treat a skin condition in the weeks leading up to the Derby.

Baffert’s attorneys eventually got a leftover sample from Medina Spirit and had it tested in New York. The result of those tests, they said, proved it was the ointment, not an injectable, that led to the positive test.

In his statement, Brewster said: “Median Spirit was treated with an ointment, not an injection. The trace amount of betamethasone could not have affected the horse in any way and the trace amount of betamethasone could not possibly have affected the outcome of the race.’’

What Brewster’s statement said there is obviously critical and is the ultimate question for me: did the presence of betamethasone help Medina Spirit win the race? To this point, I have not seen any evidence that it did.

Unlike many, I absolutely think Baffert has every right to due process here. If he thinks he has been wronged, he should be able to appeal. I also understand the people who are upset with him and are convinced he has been doing something illegal all along. I don’t see the proof of that, but I do understand the sentiment.

One obvious unanswered question: why was Medina Spirit treated with Otomax if one of its ingredients could not be in the horse’s system on race day?  Did the vet not think it would show up in a test? It would be interesting to hear the answer.

Regardless of how this plays out, it all makes the sport look bad. Do I think Baffert is Lance Armstrong? No, I do not. But, in our society these days, we don’t do nuance. The public just sees: Derby winner tests positive and that’s it.

So, here we are. Baffert’s record seventh Derby winner has been disqualified. Churchill Downs, Inc., separate from the official rulings, has banned Baffert from running horses at its tracks for two years.

Assuming he gets the stay and nothing has been decided by the third Saturday of May, Baffert will be able to run horses in the Preakness at Pimlico. The New York Racing Association is also trying to ban him from its tracks. That situation is unresolved so it’s unclear if Baffert will be able to run horses in the Belmont Stakes.  So, to review, Medina Spirit has been DQ’d from the Derby and Baffert has been suspended. Yet, this saga, nearly 10 months after it began, is nowhere near over.


By Dick Jerardi

The wind had been swirling in the afternoon. There were snow squalls. It was below freezing.

Inside at Celebrations in Bensalem on Saturday night, however, there was a celebration two years in the making after last year’s Horsemen’s Awards Banquet was not held due to the pandemic. This was a night to celebrate the horses and people that made 2021 at Parx Racing so memorable.

The video tributes and Special Achievement awards for recently retired Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA) executive director Mike Ballezzi and PTHA office manager Connie Youmans led off the evening expertly hosted by Dani Gibson whose inspiring words set a wonderful tone.

“We live off these highs and the glimmer of hope for the next race because there’s nothing better than seeing your horse cross the wire first when it’s official and it’s even better when that check clears,’’ Gibson said. “So our awards tagline is `A Night of Excellence’ and excellence is what this past year has been at Parx.’’

PTHA President Sal DeBunda spoke from Florida where he is recovering from an upper respiratory infection. His heartfelt comments focused on what has been and what will be.

“The benefits that the members of the PTHA receive thanks to the members of our board (health care and pensions among others)…all of us should be thankful that we have those,’’ DeBunda said. “I also want to look forward to the new year and the years ahead…There are still matters to be resolved in our industry…but you can be assured that our board, our staff, and I are working very hard to not only deal with those issues but to make Parx Racing and the PTHA an even better and more vibrant organization than it has been.’’

New PTHA executive director Jeff Matty, who has absolutely hit the ground running, was eloquent and passionate in his remarks about the horsemen, the board, the PTHA staff, and the sport.

“We will continue to build at Parx on a colony of horsemen and horsewomen who put the horse first,’’ Matty said.

“’We must continue to fight for that and champion the belief and vision…There are many names in your program tonight that achieved the highest of highs on our local oval…Your successes are what we strive for and I applaud each and every one of you…This awards banquet is a culmination of not just a year’s worth of work, but many years and for some, a lifetime’s worth of work in this sport and this industry…We’re all in this race together, not just for the ups and downs, but for the journey along the way. So whether you’re taking home one trophy or two trophies or no trophies at all, here’s to working for that next start, that next race, the next time the gates open and anything is possible.’’

The last award of the night was also the least surprising. The brilliant, now 5-year-old mare Chub Wagon was an overwhelming choice for 2021 Horse of the Year. She was 8-for-9 with a second in 2021, winning six stakes and nearly $500,000.

“I knew she could run, but I didn’t know how good she could be,’’ said co-breeder and co-owner Danny Lopez.

Lopez has owned, bred, and trained some very good horses in his career. Chub Wagon, he said, is “No. 1.’’

Chub Wagon (also named top older female) has spent the winter at Patty Hogan’s Cream Ridge Farm in New Jersey and is due back at the barn of Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado at the end of April or May. The connections are contemplating different 2022 racing plans for Chub Wagon. At some point, perhaps after this racing season or next, Lopez said the plan would be to sell Chub Wagon as a broodmare prospect.

Jamie Ness, who dominated the trainers’ standings for a second consecutive year, spent the most time getting his picture taken on the night, not unlike a race day at Parx. Ness had 186 winners from 554 starters at Parx in 2021, a cool 34 percent. The trainer was in the picture for his own award as well for those of his divisional winners – Thorny Tale (outstanding claim), Magic Michael (older male) – leading owner (Morris Kernan Jr, Yo Berbs, and Jagger, Inc who were responsible for 51 wins) and winningest horse (Sevier was 9-for-10 in 2021).

Ruben Silvera got out to a big early lead in the jockey’s race and never looked back, winning his first Parx title with 217 wins from 912 mounts. That he rode first call for Ness did not hurt.

Mario Dominguez (31 wins) was the leading “B’’ trainer

and Jonathan Ocasio (23 wins) was the top apprentice rider.

Trainer Butch Reid, who had the best year of his career and was elected to the Parx Hall of Fame in 2021, had two divisional winners – Disco Ebo (2-year-old filly) and Beren (3-year-old colt).

Dance Code (trainer Juan Vazquez) was the top 2-year-old male while the John Servis trained Leader of the Band was named best 3-year-old filly. Sweet Willemina, trained by Scott Lake, was the winner of the best claiming horse category.

The turnout at Celebrations was as spectacular as the performances by the humans and their horses had been in 2021. Now, we look forward to what is to come i 2022.


By Dick Jerardi

The most fascinating Eclipse Award decision was definitely going to be 3-year-old male, annually one of the two, along with Horse of the Year, marquee categories.

The voters had two great choices: Essential Quality or Medina Spirit. EQ won the Southwest, Blue Grass, Belmont, Jim Dandy, and the Travers while finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. MS won the Robert Lewis, the Kentucky Derby, the Shared Belief, and the Awesome Again while finishing second in the Sham, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby, and Breeders’ Cup Classic as well as third in the Preakness.

I had real trouble making a decision but finally went with Medina Spirit because he won the Derby, the biggest race of all, and finished in front of Essential Quality that day and in the BC Classic.

Essential Quality ended up with 131 votes to Medina Spirit’s 84. The wonderful Life Is Good got 18 votes.

I have no problem with the result. Essential Quality is certainly a deserving champion. I was actually concerned the voting would be more one-sided which would not have been fair to the accomplishments of Medina Spirit.

Some, who revealed their ballots before the result was announced, clearly were not voting for Medina Spirit because of the betamethasone positive and/or their antipathy for trainer Bob Baffert. I did not consider the positive as it has not been adjudicated and, under any circumstance, I don’t think the Derby result had anything to do with betamethasone. And I certainly did not consider the Baffert issue. It was just about accomplishment.

I thought Medina Spirit was slightly more accomplished. More voters thought it was Essential Quality. Fair enough.

Horse of the Year was not close, as it should not have been. Knicks Go got 232 of 235 votes. My kind of horse – to the front and gone. And when all the best horses showed up at Del Mar for the Classic, none of them could keep up with Knicks Go.

Echo Zulu (2-year-old filly), Corniche (2-year-old male), Malathaat (3-year-old filly), Letruska (older female) and Knicks Go again (older male) each won with almost all of the votes.

Jackie’s Warrior won the Sprint Championship on the basis of his overall season, even though his worst race was in the BC Sprint. Jackie got 110 votes to 50 for BC Sprint winner Aloha West and 33 for the incredible Flightline. No doubt, Flightline is better than all of them, but he did not have the resume. I voted for Jackie’s Warrior.

Female Sprint champion was fairly close with BC Filly & Mare Sprint winner Ce Ce beating Gamine 136-97. I voted for Ce Ce.

I was a little surprised that Loves Only You won the female turf category. She got 136 votes to 70 for my selection War Like Goddess. Nothing against Loves Only You who had an awesome year, won the BC Filly & Mare Turf, and became the first Japanese bred to win an Eclipse Award. But she raced just once in North America while War Like Goddess ran all six of her races here. That obviously did not matter to the majority of voters.

Yibir, with his win in the BC Turf and another North American stakes win, got 135 votes to win the male grass championship. Domestic Spending and Space Blues each got 33 votes. I voted for Domestic Spending, but he only raced three times and Yibir did win the biggest race. Domestic Spending scratched two days before the BC Turf.

Joel Rosario deservedly won his first Eclipse Award as champion jockey in a runaway. He got 213 votes, including mine.

 I thought the champion trainer was a close call. The voters did not, giving it to Brad Cox 189-33 over Steve Asmussen. I was one of the 33.

Cox won 253 races with horse earnings of $31 million. Asmussen won 442 races with horse earnings of $30.5 million. Each had 10 Grade I winners and two champions (Knicks Go and Essential Quality for Cox, Jackie’s Warrior and Echo Zulu for Asmussen). Cox won 30 overall graded stakes to Asmussen’s 21.

Again, it seemed closer to me and I broke the tie because I thought it would be nice for Asmussen to get the award in the year he broke the all-time wins record.

Bottom line, 2021 was a fabulous year at the top of the sport, the Triple Crown races were run when they were supposed to be, the fans returned and we all got to see some sensational performances.