the sad ending to the medina spirit saga

By Dick Jerardi

When it was announced on Friday, Dec. 3 by Bob Baffert’s attorney Craig Robertson that Dr. George Maylin, the director of the New York Drug Testing and Research Program, had determined that the anti-inflammatory betamethasone present in Medina Spirit’s split urine sample from the Kentucky Derby came from the topical ointment OTOMAX and not an injection, there was a fleeting thought that this could actually have a feel better, if not, feel-good ending.

Then, right after a workout at Santa Anita on Monday, Dec. 6, Medina Spirit, who finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, collapsed on the track and died.

All of which led to wild internet speculation, due process, and the facts be damned. Everybody thinks they know, but the reality is nobody really knows much of anything.

What hit me the most was we would never get to see Medina Spirit run again. Purchased for just $35,000 as a 2-year-old, Medina Spirit started 10 times, with five wins, four seconds, a third, and earnings of $3,545,200. This was one tough, consistent, overachieving racehorse.

In addition to the Derby, Medina won the Robert Lewis, Shared Belief and Awesome Again. The horse was second in the Sham, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby, and Breeders’ Cup Classic. His “worst’’ finish was a third in the Preakness.

Each of Medina Spirit’s four-stakes wins came when he was loose on the lead and controlled the pace. There was nothing at all atypical about his Derby win in relation to his other wins.

The betamethasone, which was originally detected in a post-race sample and made public by Medina Spirit’s trainer Bob Baffert a week after the Derby, did not make Medina Spirit run faster. But, because Baffert had had a series of recent positive drug tests (all for therapeutic medications that are legal to use in training, but not on race day), it made the positive test “look’’ really bad. That, of course, is on Baffert and his team since it is right on the OTOMAX label that betamethasone is one of the ingredients. How that absurd mistake could have been made has never been explained.

The Kentucky Racing Commission has neither announced a positive test for Medina Spirit nor scheduled a hearing on the matter. If there is ever actually a proceeding and Maylin’s findings are accepted, my guess is Medina Spirit still will be disqualified from the Derby because of the presence of the betamethasone. Not sure how they can get around that regardless of how the drug got there. The arguments, however, will be fascinating. Robertson, for instance, is already saying that because it did not come from an injection, it did not break the rules and there should be no DQ. The commission may not see it that way.

At the very least, again if Maylin’s findings are accepted, Baffert may be able to regain some of his lost reputations from those who are willing to accept that it was a mistake and not intentional. Many will not be able to go there and I get that. Just too much smoke for there not to be a fire is an understandable reaction.  The results of a necropsy hopefully will be the definitive word on how Medina Spirit died. Sadly, that will not change the fact that a really cool horse, who was being readied for a 4-year-old campaign that was to include a run at the $20 million Saudi Cup, has run his last race. And, regardless of all the conspiracy theories surrounding the horse, his trainer, and what may have contributed to the death, that awful ending to the horse’s career and life is one fact not in dispute.

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