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TrackNotes: The Baffert Stakes

Saratoga is open for its 2021 meet.

That's the greatest news. Cards packed with stakes races that have stood the test of decades, including the Test Stakes. Top two-year-olds making their debuts. Where the horses are so good top to bottom, playing the tote board can be exciting and lucrative.

But all sports in this country are so screwed up, it requires fans to compartmentalize like never before if they choose to follow any game. I can't wait for the huge gambling scandal that we know is coming - unless owners cut in the players on the wagering pimping that major league sports are engaged in - to a big event, like the World Series or Super Bowl.

These sports are asking more and more and more and more out of fans while giving nothing back except vicious owners, horrible officiating, which, paradoxically, erodes betting integrity, and games legislated out of existence and priced out of reach. Even Jim "Coach" Coffman is disgusted with the standard operating sins of the Cubs, venal and mortal.

What about the kids? Is this really how they're going to be raised in sports, if they're even watching anymore?

Since we deal with horse racing here, let's talk about the stinking sewage flowing freely from track to track for the seeming aggrandizement of one man, as vile and corrupt as any Roman emperor you've ever heard of: Bob Baffert.

Before we get any further, if racing does not ban Baffert from all racing for at least 10 years, as it did with Richard Dutrow, I will be gone from the game. Maybe sooner if it starts looking bad, and even today, July 20, it's looking mighty bad.

Scrutiny has only come since his Medina Spirit was caught with betamethasone in his system after winning the Kentucky Derby in May. Two split blood samples tested in Kentucky proved it. As he has done for decades, he blamed environmental contamination on an ointment used for a skin condition on the horse.

Baffertian. Trumpian.

After Baffert and his legal team ran a preemptive strike and confirmed the rumors of a positive test, Churchill Downs Inc. almost immediately banned him and his horses from setting foot on any of its tracks. The New York Racing Association soon banned him from its tracks, most notably the prestigious Saratoga meet now underway. More on New York later.

But it's never his fault. "I do not feel safe training," Baffert said. "It's getting worse, to me. How do I enjoy, how do I move forward as a trainer knowing this can happen? It's a complete injustice, and we're going to fight it tooth and nail."

Baffertian. Trumpian.

Let's look back now. Baffert is a serial cheat and oh, by the way, he also kills horses.

The Washington Post reports on the 29 drug violations Baffert has been cited for; the seven horses who died either in their stalls or jogging in track workouts at Hollywood Park; and Baffert's hellacious record on horse fatalities.

One horse, Nautical Look, had morphine in its system. Baffert blamed a groom with eating a poppyseed roll near him; environmental contamination. In Seinfeld, that was a joke, but Baffert tried to intimidate the groom into admitting he did eat the poppyseed. The groom refused. And quit the business.

Baffertian. Trumpian.

The Post also found that Baffert is not only in the top tier in the number of horses dying under his watch, but that his deaths-per-1,000-starts ratio tops the industry. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has been vagabonding around the country dodging suspensions for his horse deaths, 122 versus Baffert's 74, although Hollendorfer's deaths-per-starts is much lower.

He was found to administer the thyroid medication thyroxine to all of his horses. Rick Arthur, California's medical equine director, said thyroxine can cause heart failure in exercising horses. The Post reported: The veterinarian chalked up Baffert's response to ignorance. "It's not uncommon to find trainers who don't understand medications and how different medications work," Arthur said. But because it didn't kill all his horses, it was alright.

At the time, Baffert, through his seat on the Thoroughbred Owners of California board, was behind legislation what would put a term limit on Arthur's job. Three of the board members had intimate business dealings with Baffert for either training or breeding. The rest were probably in some sort of awe of him or protection for him.

Two months after Baffert was cleared in the horse deaths, April 2014, the TOC dropped the proposed legislation.

How does Baffert get away with it? The Post's new report explains.

We go back to the cover-up of Justify's positive drug test after the 2018 Santa Anita Derby. The horse was found to have scopolamine, which Baffert and the complicit California racing officials attributed to jimson weed unsuspectingly mixed in the Justify's, and Baffert's Hopportunity, hay. Once again, going to the well with environmental contamination.

California officials blubbered that they couldn't have tested properly before the Kentucky Derby. Justify would not have qualified for the Kentucky Derby without winning at Santa Anita.

One of the central villains in the Justify cover-up, with Baffert looming over him like an executioner, was: Rick Arthur. He's also a veterinarian!

From the beginning, Arthur flat out said he would pave the way, through delay, for Justify to run in the Triple Crown. One of his specious arguments was "The way this case was handled was not a favor for Bob Baffert. The way this case was handled was out of respect for Justify." Yeah, because Justify might have a chance to win the Triple Crown, knowing Baffert's propensity to cheat.

"On April 26, records show, Arthur e-mailed CHRB officials that he had 'talked to Bob' and informed him the proceedings would not immediately interfere with Justify's Triple Crown schedule. 'I told him there would be nothing from CHRB before the KY Derby, unlikely before the Preakness and possibly not until after the Belmont,' Arthur wrote. 'I told him I thought there was a good indication that these were feed contamination,' the Post reported.

Advocating his own legal opinion, Arthur planted the seed of retroactively invoking the Association of Racing Commissioners International reclassification down of scopolamine to a 4/C violation, less than a traffic ticket. Although the CHRB had not formally adopted the guideline.

The process was also slowed by a test that found milkweed, not jimson.

The proper procedure would have been for the CHRB to have taken the positive test findings and filed a complaint against Baffert, no matter how serious they considered the infraction to be. That would have put the case in the hands of the stewards, perhaps a more independent bunch. But CHRB chief counsel Robert Brodnik wrote a memo basically making final findings that it was environmental contamination, and board president Bob Baedeker and Arthur decided not to make any complaint.

Baedeker spewed equine diarrhea to justify the decision.

"Baedeker said this week he changed his mind on not filing a complaint because he didn't want to pass the buck. 'I felt that we would've been dumping this in their lap, that we would've been putting them in an unfair position, and that we needed to go ahead and do the difficult thing, quite frankly, which is take responsibility for the decision.'"

Apparently, Baffert's political clout runs deep and the CHRB seems to have outsized power. The Post's reporting is based on a report by a California deputy attorney general. It said, "A court could find that the CHRB abused its discretion and acted in a manner that was arbitrary, capricious, or entirely lacking in evidentiary support." Ya think?

Back in New York, Baffert has received the benefit of two developments, one legal, one potentially outrageous. Last Wednesday, U.S. District Court judge Carol Bailey Amon granted Baffert a preliminary injunction against the New York Racing Association preventing it from enforcing its suspension.

The judge ruled that because NYRA did not provide Baffert a hearing, as a quasi-government agency, there was no due process. She also said that with due process, it doesn't mean NYRA doesn't have the right to ban Baffert. Churchill Downs is a private corporation. A distinction.

But just Tuesday, we found out that testing fluids were fucked-up by a New York testing lab and, perhaps, by Kentucky officials as well.

The Kentucky Horse Racing commission is alleging that the New York Equine Drug Testing and Research Laboratory did not adequately protect blood and urine samples. Baffert successfully moved in Kentucky to let him have a third test, besides the two positives he already had on Medina Spirit. He argued the urine test would confirm topical application of the salve, as if that matters.

The blood sample was damaged in shipping and the New York lab seemingly used almost all of the urine in its testing, after it promised to protect a certain amount for Kentucky. All that remains is about a milliliter of a "bloody liquid."

The head of the lab, Dr. George Maylin, refuses to explain how the samples were depleted, what the results of the tests are or even if they were performed. He wouldn't turn over the remaining sample until served with a court order, which is when KHRC found out it was basically lost.

What gives? Why would Kentucky send the entire samples and trust New York with due diligence? Did Baffert or somebody else in racing get to the lab?

Baffert attorney Craig Robertson was indignant.

"There seems to be some sort of implication, if not a direct accusation, that we have had some kind of direct communication with the New York lab and know testing has been done or what the results are," Robertson said. "That's just completely false."

Baffertian. Trumpian.

Baffert has never been in favor of drug reform in racing. He has spoken and lobbied all along for the continuance of Lasix, a drug that keeps horses from bleeding in the lungs, which can be considered a performance enhancer. It is also said to mask other drugs in a horse's system. I've never really heard him call for drug reform, especially on the softball TV interviews.

He cynically, to me, positioned himself to have found religion after trainer Jason Servis and several others were indicted for not only drugging horses, but also altering drugs, falsely packaging and distributing drugs. Wolves too close to the door for Baffert? He had perhaps his four most notorious drug positives after the Op-Ed ran.

Two of his top horses were caught in Arkansas and one of them again in Kentucky. Both states tossed the cases. Then came Medina Spirit.

What about Baffert? It is said he has told regulators, "Fine me all you want, but don't suspend me."

"He'll do anything to win, and he's got all his bases covered politically," Barry Irwin, owner of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, told the Post. "And because of that, he has become arrogant as hell. He's Mr. Teflon."

Also from the Post: "Monty Roberts, a trainer who has agitated for more humane treatment of racehorses throughout his six-decade career, said that Baffert has long been one of the most important voices holding the sport back from reform. Asked whether he was surprised by the finding that Baffert's barn was the deadliest in California, Roberts laughed.

"If it surprised me it would be that I expected more," Roberts said. "Bob Baffert has moved his way up the ladder to the extent that he has the most influential, the wealthiest owners in the industry, that he takes on the highest-quality horses possible - because he wins races. And he pushes the envelope to the extent that they give their lives for his bank account."

Baffertian. Trumpian.

Baffert doesn't run that often at Saratoga, usually just carpetbagging in for a big stakes race, of which Saratoga has several. If he tries this summer, I hope NYRA clamps his ass and runs his horses through massive testing, pre-race. They've done it before.

We can't be confident that racing will discipline Baffert as he deserves. The huge first step would be for the Kentucky commission to ban him and disqualify Medina Spirit. Then, as with Dutrow, other state racing commissions would follow suit.

But racing didn't personally like Dutrow. He bragged about giving Big Brown steroids, which was pretty legal at the time. Racing didn't like that.

Baffert seems to have some sort of magnetism or charisma that I don't get. To me, he's used up all of his racing capital. I'm starting to believe Baffert and his nefarious owners fully believe these horses are "just animals." Collateral damage. Sickening to think of.

The empty heads who seem to feel the sport needs Baffert, no. It needs to get rid of him. And it's been doing just fine without him for this short time.

People who disagree with making an example of him because of who he is are wrong. As with all things sports in this country, Baffert was TV-overhyped while others have won thousands more races - admittedly not always without controversy.

For the people who know nothing of racing except Baffert, that's precisely why he should be banned. He compromised the racing and the wagering. He drugged horses. He killed horses.

I don't think we'll be seeing much of Baffert at Saratoga.

That buys me another six weeks in this game.

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Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Sep 22, 2021