REGULATORY LANGUAGE THAT WILL DETERMINE THE MEDINA SPIRIT OUTCOME

If a split-sample test confirms that ostensible 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit raced with a small amount of betamethasone in his bloodstream, then the consequences for his trainer and owner will be determined by governing Kentucky Racing Commission (KRC) regulatory language.  (The overwhelming majority of split samples corroborate the first sample, although not always.)

The KRC classifies drugs into four categories, with the most potent designated as class A drugs and the least potent as class D drugs.  Betamethasone is a Class C drug. KRC regulations pertaining to Class C drugs state:

“(4)(a) Class C drugs, medications, and substances are those that: (1) Are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and have a lesser potential to influence performance in the equine athlete than Class A drugs, medications, and substances and those Class B drugs, medications, and substances that are classified at that level because they have a high potential to influence performance and are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration; or Legislative Research Commission. (2) Lack approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration, but have pharmacologic effects similar to certain Class D drugs, medications, or substances that are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.”

Specific KRC language concerning the recommended withdrawal period for betamethasone reads:

“k. The following have a fourteen (14) day stand down period for intra-articular injection. Any IA corticosteroid injection within fourteen (14) days is a violation: (i) Betamethasone, via IA administration at 9 mg total dose in a single articular space. Withdrawal time should be increased for use of betamethasone products with a ratio of greater than 1:1 betamethasone acetate to betamethasone sodium phosphate.  Intramuscular administration is associated with substantially longer withdrawal times.”

810 KAR 8:030 specifies “Disciplinary measures and penalties” for a Class 3 violation.

Sanctions for a trainer (in this case, Robert Baffert):

“Second offense within a 365-day period in any racing jurisdiction.  Ten (10) to thirty (30) day suspension absent mitigating circumstances AND $1,500 to $2,500 fine absent mitigating circumstances.”

“Mitigating circumstances.  Evidence of full compliance with the withdrawal guidelines should be considered by the stewards, judges, and the commission as a mitigating factor to be used in determining violations and penalties.”

Sanctions for an owner (in this case, Amr Zedan):

First offense.  “Disqualification and loss of purse AND Horse may be required to pass a commission-approved examination before being eligible to enter as determined by the stewards or judges.”

Importantly, the prescribed penalties for an owner are silent on mitigating circumstances, meaning that the only remedy for a first-offense Class 3 violation is disqualification of the owner’s horse.

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Analysis

The most likely denouement is that the split sample will confirm the betamethasone positive in the first sample.  In that event, the forgoing language concerning the disciplinary penalties for the owner is unambiguous that Medina Spirit must be disqualified as the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner and the owner will accordingly forfeit the purse.

The trainer, who would have two offenses within a 365-day period, would be suspended for ten to thirty days and be fined between $1,500 and $2,500. Irrespective of one’s opinion about the appropriateness of these sanctions, KRC’s controlling language manifestly does not support calls by some groups and individuals to revoke his license or ban him for life.

Moreover, if the trainer were able to provide strong evidence that he was in “full compliance with the withdrawal guidelines” for betamethasone, it is possible that his already light penalties would be reduced. 

The conclusion here is that disqualification is the almost certain outcome, given the clear language in the KRC regulations and the public-relations fallout if Medina Spirit was allowed to remain the Derby winner. Medina Spirit would have the infamous claim to being the second drug-related disqualification in Kentucky Derby history and the second Kentucky Derby winner to be disqualified in the past three years.

A sad byproduct of this episode is that American horse racing is scandalized by a low-level Class C drug positive in the winner of the sport’s most prestigious race, who was trained by the most famous face in U. S. racing. The public will process only that the Kentucky Derby winner was “drugged,” and won’t get into the weeds to find out that the drug was in the Class C category and arguably did not boost the colt’s performance.

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