(AP) LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Bob Baffert has filed a federal lawsuit against Churchill Downs and the track’s leadership, claiming that the Hall of Fame trainer’s two-year suspension violates his due process rights.
Churchill Downs Inc., CEO William C. Carstanjen, and board chair R. Alex Rankin are named in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday. Baffert was suspended by the historic track this spring until 2023, citing a recent string of failed drug tests by his horses, including the now-deceased Medina Spirit after he won the Kentucky Derby. A post-race drug test indicated that he was carrying the corticosteroid betamethasone, which is legal in Kentucky but not on race day.
Medina Spirit was disqualified last week, and Baffert was given a 90-day suspension and a $7,500 fine by Kentucky racing officials. Soon after, Churchill Downs declared runner-up Mandaloun the winner. Director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Marc A. Guilfoil dismissed the trainer’s request for a stay of the punishment, which is set to begin on March 8.
The steroid in Medina Spirit, according to Baffert and his representatives, came from the topical medication Otomax, rather than an injection that is prohibited. Churchill Downs is not tasked with relegating horse racing in Kentucky, according to attorney Clark Brewster, but it “may summarily prohibit” a trainer without having facts or any sort of due process.
“Churchill Downs and Mr. Carstanjen knew full well that imposing its suspension, based on zero factual or legal support, would give illegitimate credibility to a false narrative about Bob,” Brewster added, “creating pressure on the Kentucky Race Horsing Commission stewards to take action against him, too.”
Churchill Downs called Baffert’s lawsuit disappointing but not surprising in a statement and said it would fight the suit and defend the company’s rights.
“His claims are meritless and consistent with his pattern of failed drug tests, denials, excuses and attempts to blame others and identify loopholes in order to avoid taking responsibility for his actions,” it added.
Medina Spirit died on Dec. 6 from a heart attack, according to Baffert, after a workout at the Santa Anita racetrack in California. A necropsy found that there was no conclusive cause of death. The animal’s ashes will be placed at a Kentucky thoroughbred horse retirement facility.