Kentucky Derby Winner Medina Spirit Fails Drug Test, Faces Possible Disqualification

  • Horse had twice the legal amount of betamethasone in its system
  • If Medina Spirit is disqualified, Mandaloun will be named the winner of the Kentucky Derby
  • Derby bet payouts would not change if Medina Spirit is disqualified
  • Trainer Bob Baffert claims innocence, but has a history of failed horse drug tests
  • Handle numbers for the 2021 Kentucky Derby approached pre-pandemic levels
Closeup of Barbaro statue at Churchill Downs
Even if Kentucky Derby Winner Medina Spirit is disqualified for a failed drug test, bets on the race are unlikely to be affected. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Update May 14, 2021: Bob Baffert faces two class-action lawsuits from betting groups following Medina Spirit’s failed post-race drug test. The Kentucky Derby champion’s trainer stands accused of fraud, racketeering, and negligence. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for the bets lost on the winning horse, with one lawsuit pushing for Baffert to be completely removed from the sport.

Betting results would remain unchanged

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test, putting the horse on the verge of disqualification. Medina Spirit tested positive for an “excessive” amount steroid called betamethasone, which can be used as a treatment for pain and inflammation. The 21 picograms of the steroid were twice the legal amount, according to Kentucky horse racing regulations.

If the test results hold, Churchill Downs will disqualify Medina Spirit and runner-up Mandaloun will be declared the winner. Bob Baffert, the horse’s trainer, has been suspended from Churchill Downs.

Medina Spirit bettors will still keep their winnings.

As for a possible disqualification’s effect on bettors, the simple answer is there won’t be any. Medina Spirit bettors will still keep their winnings. Mandaloun bettors – who would have won over $50 on a $2 bet – will still hold losing tickets. Medina Spirit’s team and owner will have to return their $1.86m winner’s share, though.

Trainer pleads innocent

For his part, Baffert called the news of the failed drug test “the biggest gut punch in racing” and vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

“We’re going to do our own investigation. We’re going to be transparent with the racing commission, like we’ve always been,” Baffert said in a statement.

Baffert is a legendary horse trainer who has over 3,000 wins on his record, including seven Kentucky Derbies. He also, however, has a history of horses failing drug tests. In just over a year, five of Baffert’s horses have failed tests. One of those was Gamine, who also tested positive for betamethasone this past September. Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner and Baffert’s most famous horse, tested positive for scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby in 2018, though it was never reported by the California Horse Racing Board.

Despite his adamant protest, Baffert is not doing himself any favors in the media. Speaking with Fox News Monday morning, seemed to put the blame on society somehow, saying: “We live in a different world now. This America’s different and…it was like a cancel culture kind of a thing.”

According to Louisville sports journalist Rick Bozich, Baffert also claimed that the positive test might have been the result of Medina Spirit eating hay that had previously been urinated upon by a groom who had been taking cough medicine.

Derby was a glimpse of normalcy

Before the news of Medina Spirit’s positive drug test, the 2021 Kentucky Derby was a cause for celebration. Bettors plunked down $155.4m on the race, not far off the Derby’s record handle of $165.5m. Last year’s handle, in the early months of the pandemic, was just $79.4m.

For all of the races on Derby Day, total handle was $233m, compared to $128.3m last year. The record of $250.9m was set in 2019.

the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in the United States during the pandemic

Because of increased COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the United States and a better understanding of the virus a year later, attendance was also way up in 2021. 51,838 people were at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in the United States during the pandemic. That is still only a bit more than a third of the record attendance mark of 2019, though.

The wagering numbers were driven by online betting, which has expanded greatly in the past year. TwinSpires, owned by Churchill Downs, reported a record $62.7m in handle for all of Derby Day and $40.8m for the Kentucky Race by itself. It also helped that 15 million people watched on television, up from 9.3 million last year, the lowest viewership in the Kentucky Derby’s history.