The winner of the last spring's Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit, has been officially disqualified and trainer Bob Baffert suspended after labs confirmed a steroid was present in the horse's bloodstream, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced on Monday.
In a statement on Monday, Churchill Downs, which hosts the celebrated horse race, congratulated the new official winner.
"Today Churchill Downs recognizes Mandaloun as the winner of the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby and extends our congratulations to owner/breeder Juddmonte, trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux. Winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the most exciting achievements in sports and we look forward to celebrating Mandaloun on a future date in a way that is fitting of this rare distinction."
State racing officials' decision came nine months after Medina Spirit failed the postrace blood test on May 1, 2021. Baffert has denied any wrongdoing, and Medina Spirit went on to die unexpectedly on Dec. 6.
According to a letter from the racing commission's board of stewards on Monday, the horse's blood following his derby win contained betamethasone. In addition to being tested by the racing commission's lab in Kentucky, the finding was confirmed by a lab at the University of California, Davis.
Clark Brewster, Baffert's attorney, said in a statement on Monday that they would appeal the racing commission's ruling. He described the substance found by the drug test as a "trace amount" that would not have affected the horse's performance during the race. He also claimed it entered the horse's system via an ointment, not an injection, at the direction of a veterinarian and therefore did not violate the rules.
"The stewards’ decision to rob Medina Spirit of a victory he earned was not in accordance with the law but instead represents biased, purposeful, and wrongful action," Brewster said.
Baffert will be suspended for 90 days, the stewards said, effective March 8–June 5. He'd already been banned by Churchill Downs through 2023.
“Reckless practices and substance violations that jeopardize the safety of our equine and human athletes or compromise the integrity of our sport are not acceptable and as a company we must take measures to demonstrate that they will not be tolerated," Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO Bill Carstanjen said when the suspension was announced in June. "Mr. Baffert’s record of testing failures threatens public confidence in thoroughbred racing and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby."
But though the racetrack had imposed sanctions on Baffert, only the state's racing commission could officially disqualify Medina Spirit as the race winner. That happened with Monday's ruling, which came after a Feb. 14 hearing in which Baffert and his counsel appeared before the commission's board. In addition to the suspension from the state, Baffert was fined $7,500.
Baffert has threatened to sue Churchill Downs over barring him from its 2022 and 2023 races, but no lawsuit has yet been filed. In June, he sued the racing commission, claiming they'd violated due process regarding a urine sample from the horse, the Associated Press reported.