triple crown nominations are out, but no baffert in derby again

By Dick Jerardi

When the early Triple Crown nominations closed Jan. 29, there were 346 horses on the list, including three based at Parx – Withers winner Uncle Heavy, the promising Maximus Meridius (Gotham Stakes next) and Deposition (fourth in the Withers). The first two are trained by Butch Reid, the third by Uriah St. Lewis. There were 54 horses on the list trained by Todd Pletcher, 18 by Brad Cox. Any of those nominees can run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Bob Baffert nominated 18 horses. Any of them can run in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. None of them can run in the Derby.


Baffert, of course, was banned from running horses at any Churchill Downs-owned tracks for two years after the 2021 Derby “winner” Medina Spirit tested positive for the banned-on-race-day anti-inflammatory Betamethasone and was eventually disqualified. One could argue (as I did) the penalty was far too harsh for what was not a performance-enhancing substance.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission gave Baffert a 90-day suspension because Gamine, third in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, had also tested positive for the same substance. It was not an unreasonable resolution.

Baffert and his attorneys argued Medina Spirit was never administered Betamethasone, but it showed up in the post-race test because it was an ingredient in an ointment that had been used to treat a skin rash.

Trying to separate fact from fiction in all the arguments is difficult, but really beside the point at this point.

Baffert was given a two-year suspension. He would not be able to run horses in the Derby in 2022 and 2023.

Speaking with NBC’s Mike Tirico, Churchill Downs Inc., CEO Bill Carstanjen said: “let’s say there aren’t any (more) drug violations and he completes his two-year suspension, well, then he’s completed his suspension and then, absent further facts, he should be free to race here again if he chooses.”

Baffert has had no drug violations since the 2021 Derby.

Yet, on July 3, 2003, Churchill Downs announced that Baffert’s ban would continue through 2024.

Again, why?

If it was because a lawsuit trying to overturn the Medina Spirit

DQ was ongoing that became moot when it was announced Jan. 22 that the suit was being dropped. Churchill Downs’ announced immediately that Baffert was still banned.

If it was because Baffert continued to insist the positive was the result of the ointment and not an injection, that’s just silly. If someone convicted of a crime continues to insist on his innocence after he has served his sentence, that sentence is not increased. The first amendment still applies.

In 2022 and 2023, Baffert’s best Derby prospects were transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen and were able to run at Churchill. This year, Churchill moved up the deadline to transfer to Jan. 29 when the early nominations closed.

Baffert’s owners responded by doing nothing. The horses stayed with Baffert. They can’t run in the Derby.

The brilliant unbeaten Nysos and the very talented Muth are 1-2 on most top 3-year-old lists at the moment. Both are trained by Baffert.

Kinza, also trained by Baffert, is the fastest 3-year-old filly in the country. She can’t run in the Kentucky Oaks.

So, on May 4, the massive celebration that will be Kentucky Derby 150 will be missing one essential element – the best 3-year-old in the country. On May 3, the Kentucky Oaks will be missing what is likely the best 3-year-old filly in the country.


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