Horse Racing

Lawyers struggle during Baffert .’s preliminary hearing

Nearly four hours of arguments and testimony in a Louisville, Ky. courtroom, were not enough to conclude a February 2 hearing on the preliminary injunction sought by Hall of Fame coach Bob Baffert in the lawsuit. against racetrack operator Churchill Downs Inc. US District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ordered the hearing to resume on February 3 at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Baffert’s pursuit of a preliminary order could allow the two-time Triple Crown-winning coach to run the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1) and other major races at Churchill Downs this spring after CDI banned him from competing at its tracks until mid-2023 after his trainee Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina spirit , tested positive for the presence of betamethasone on race day after crossing the first wire in the 2021 Derby. Baffert was subsequently fined and suspended for 90 days by the disqualified Kentucky and Medina Spirit managers. right to compete, a decision that is still being appealed. Baffert went on to complete his suspension.

In deciding whether to authorize or deny preliminary ordered relief, Jennings must consider, among other factors, the likelihood that Baffert will prevail based on his performance and showing of injury. can be remedied without help. Baffert has, to date, been largely unsuccessful in contesting court and regulatory decisions in Kentucky, and Santa Anita . Park– based on stables where most of the top 3-year-olds in California are settled, as was the case before the CDI action.

Baffert’s horses are currently barred from earning qualifying points for the May 6 Kentucky Derby, and under rules established this year, they can only earn points for other trainers if they move to the stables. another later this month. Last year, two Baffert interns, more messy and Taiba qualifying and racing unsuccessfully in the Derby after being put into coach Tim Yakteen’s cage.

Baffert’s attorneys, Clark Brewster and Joey De Angelis, presented their opening arguments in court Thursday afternoon, with Brewster calling CDI’s Baffert ban “made by force rather than reason.” right,” an action the track operator called unprecedented. He said the CDI suspended the coach by “press release decree” without giving Baffert a hearing or explaining how Medina Spirit could have tested positive for betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug.

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He further argued that the incident occurred at a time when the promotion of the Equestrian Integrity and Safety Authority was in the spotlight, and Baffert became the “poster boy” for what was wrong in horse racing and horse drug use.

Although Baffert said Medina Spirit was never treated with betamethasone shortly after the test results came out and later blamed the positive result on “culturing cancellation,” he later said Medina Spirit had treated the skin condition with an antifungal ointment called Otomax. which contains betamethasone val.

Pointing to vague language in the Kentucky Equestrian Commission rules, Baffert’s attorneys argued that betamethasone valerate is not specifically prohibited by the KHRC, in contrast to betamethasone acetate, the type of betamethasone used in joint injections, which is classically in which horses receive corticosteroids.

KHRC general counsel Jennifer Wolsing, who followed the proceedings in court as an observer on Thursday, previously stated before a hearing officer that the regulatory route was inappropriate and managers handled their sanctions against coaches on that basis.

Otomax, marketed to treat ear infections in dogs, is not approved by the Federal Drug Administration for use in horses, although horses can be treated off-label with this medication with documentation. veterinarian and customer consent.

According to the California Horse Racing Board’s treatment documents, Baffert’s California-based veterinarian Vince Baker prescribed Otomax on April 9, 2021 and on April 19, 2021, when Medina Spirit is ready. begins the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Baker is expected to testify on Friday.

De Angelis sought to portray CDI as binding on state governments and the KHRC, a key argument in Baffert’s case if they wanted to demonstrate a violation of the trainer’s due process rights. He points out that many KHRC-licensed employees are working at Churchill Downs, and one manager involved in the KHRC-issued suspended Baffert is being employed by Churchill, along with the other two held by KHRC.

“The very pungent state scent (CDI) cannot be considered a private activity,” he said before CDI lawyers later argued that state surveillance occurs in many regulated industries. physical.

After Brewster and De Angelis spoke together for two hours, Jennings asked the attorneys to increase their speed, and CDI attorney Tom Dupree countered that Baffert’s legal team was making the same arguments they were making. in previous hearings. He said Baffert’s request for a preliminary injunction at this point was an “unreasonable tactical delay,” more than a year and a half after the suspension.

The issuance of the order would be a “judicial takedown” of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks (G1) and would mean other Derby participants would need to “make way at the 11th hour for Mr. Baffert.”

He refuted that argument from Baffert’s legal team that Baffert, like an Olympic athlete pursuing the “once in a lifetime” opportunity cited in an earlier legal case as precedent, It would be irrefutable to miss this year’s Derby. He notes that it is his horses, not the trainer, that are the athletes and that Baffert has a chance in 2024 and beyond to chase the Derby.

He also noted that an application for a booth signed by Baffert and given to all permanent trainers there may result in the cancellation of the right to participate at the operator’s sole discretion “without any any advance notice.”

Aside from a phone call from a CDI employee in which Brewster claimed Baffert was essentially just reading the press release about his ban, he received very little communication from the company. In his opening statement to the judge, Brewster called the lack of a hearing or even a conversation on the matter “wrong in every way in the country we live in, ladies and gentlemen.”

A witness testifying on Thursday, CDI’s chief equine medical officer, Dr Will Farmer, admitted under cross-examination from Brewster that he had not investigated Baffert’s claims, including the use of Automax. This cream was not found during a KHRC search at Baffert’s stables in Churchill Downs.

Prior to his suspension, he was consulted by upper management at CDI and “I was asked what I know”, that is, regarding betamethasone.

Under questioning by CDI attorney Jeff Moad, Farmer testified that he considered violations of betamethasone to occur when detected within “limit of detection”—a term that means a laboratory can find its presence without any indication of any degree—regardless of whether the drug enters the horse’s body or not. system through injection or ointment.

Jennings sometimes becomes frustrated during Brewster’s cross-examination of Farmer and then insists with attorneys to focus on specific legal issues related to preliminary order requests. She urged them to move at a faster pace during the late Friday morning session.

“I’ll starve you at some point” to end lunch, she said.

Baffert, who attended Thursday’s trial with his wife, Jill, and son Bode, is expected to be questioned by attorneys for both sides on Friday in court.

-Dick Downey also contributed to this story.


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