Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit was treated with an antifungal ointment containing the steroid betamethasone that caused the horse to fail a postrace drug test, trainer Bob Baffert said Tuesday.
In a statement issued by his lawyer, Baffert said Medina Spirit was treated for dermatitis with the ointment once a day leading up to the May 1 race, and equine pharmacology experts have told him this could explain the test results. Baffert said the horse tested positive for 21 picograms of the substance, which is typically given to horses therapeutically to help their joints and is a violation even at a trace amount on race day in Kentucky.
Regardless of the reason, Medina Spirit would be disqualified from the Derby if a second round of testing shows the presence of betamethasone. Derby runner-up Mandaloun would be elevated to winner. It is unknown how long Kentucky officials will take to determine whether the results of the Derby should stand or will change.
"Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in [the ointment] Otomax is betamethasone. While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit's post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results," Baffert said in the statement.
"As such, I wanted to be forthright about this fact as soon as I learned of this information. As I have stated, my investigation is continuing and we do not know for sure if this ointment was the cause of the test results or if the test results are even accurate, as they have yet to be confirmed by the split sample. However, again, I have been told that a finding of a small amount, such as 21 picograms, could be consistent with application of this type of ointment.
"I intend to continue to investigate and I will continue to be transparent. In the meantime, I want to reiterate two points I made when this matter initially came to light. First, I had no knowledge of how betamethasone could have possibly found its way into Medina Spirit (until now), and this has never been a case of attempting to game the system or get an unfair advantage. Second, horse racing must address its regulatory problem when it comes to substances which can innocuously find their way into a horse's system at the picogram (which is a trillionth of a gram) level. Medina Spirit earned his Kentucky Derby win, and my pharmacologists have told me that 21 picograms of betamethasone would have had no effect on the outcome of the race.
"Medina Spirit is a deserved champion and I will continue to fight for him."
Medina Spirit's Derby win by half a length over Mandaloun gave Baffert his record seventh victory in the sport's premier race. That milestone win is now in jeopardy after Baffert's announcement Sunday that test results revealed the horse had the steroid betamethasone in his system. In August a new standard was passed that any detectable amount of betamethasone in race testing is a violation. Betamethasone is legal under Kentucky racing rules, though it must be cleared 14 days before a horse races.
Baffert has denied all wrongdoing and had previously said the horse had never been treated with betamethasone.
Baffert's lawyer Craig Robertson said the plan is still for Medina Spirit to run in the Preakness on Saturday. Baffert is not attending the race, as he said he does not want to be a distraction. The Preakness draw is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Preakness officials said they were reviewing the facts before deciding on Medina Spirit's entrance. Robertson told The Associated Press he planned to file a restraining order to prevent the Preakness from barring Medina Spirit if that was the decision that was made.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.