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Medina Spirit Allowed To Run In The Preakness Amid Controversy Over Failed Drug Test

Kentucky Derby winner — for now — Medina Spirit, left, walks the track at Pimlico in Baltimore ahead of Saturday's Preakness Stakes.
Julio Cortez
Kentucky Derby winner — for now — Medina Spirit, left, walks the track at Pimlico in Baltimore ahead of Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

Medina Spirit, the thoroughbred colt whose 2021 Kentucky Derby win is in peril due to a failed drug test, will be allowed to run in this Saturday's Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.

The colt's participation in Saturday's race had been in question since a post-race drug test after the Kentucky Derby earlier this month discovered the presence of betamethasone, a corticosteroid commonly used to treat pain and inflammation in horses but is illegal in any amount on race day in Kentucky.

After originally denying that Medina Spirit had been administered the drug, trainer Bob Baffert said Tuesday he had recently learned the horse had indeed been given an anti-fungal ointment containing the offending substance.

"While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit's post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results," Baffert said in a statement distributed by his lawyer.

Baffert, who had previously floated a conspiracy theory involving a groom on cough medicine urinating in Medina Spirit's stall and called the outcry over the test result "cancel culture," vigorously defended his own actions and Medina Spirit's Derby victory even as he acknowledged for the first time the possibility that the test result was legitimate.

"This has never been a case of attempting to game the system or get an unfair advantage," he wrote.

On May 1, Medina Spirit won the Derby by half a length over the 26-1 longshot Mandaloun. The win was Baffert's seventh at the Derby, a record. Just over a week later, Medina Spirit failed the post-race test.

According to Baffert, betamethasone was an ingredient in an antifungal ointment recommended by a veterinarian to treat a case of dermatitis Medina Spirit developed after running the Santa Anita Derby in April. The horse was treated once a day until the day before the Derby.

Trainer Bob Baffert at Churchill Downs ahead of this year's Kentucky Derby. His horses have failed five drug tests in just over a year.
Charlie Riedel / AP
Trainer Bob Baffert at Churchill Downs ahead of this year's Kentucky Derby. His horses have failed five drug tests in just over a year.

The results of a second test, called a "split sample," are expected in the coming weeks. If that comes back positive, Medina Spirit would be retroactively disqualified from the Derby and the second-place horse Mandaloun would be declared winner.

Since Mandaloun is not running in the Preakness, there would be no Triple Crown winner in 2021.

After Medina Spirit's positive test, officials at Pimlico, the racetrack in Baltimore where the Preakness is held, had delayed by a day the announcement of the race's draw — the random assignment of racehorses to their starting stalls.

Officials were reportedly discussing whether Medina Spirit should be allowed to race at all. Baffert and his lawyer threatened legal action if the horse was denied entry.

On Tuesday, Pimlico officials and Baffert came to an agreement to allow Medina Spirit, along with Baffert's other entrant in the Preakness, a colt named Concert Tour, to run in the Preakness Stakes, according to a letter of agreement provided to NPR by Baffert's lawyer, W. Craig Robertson.

Both horses, along with a filly Baffert is running in another race at Pimlico that day, had samples drawn upon their arrival at Pimlico Monday and again Tuesday. If any horse tests positive before their race, they will be scratched.

The uproar over Medina Spirit's failed test was immediate, due to the stature and history of his Hall of Fame trainer Baffert.

Baffert is currently the sport's most successful and famous trainer, with six previous Derby winners and seven Preakness winners to his name, including Justify and American Pharoah, the only two horses to have won the Triple Crown since the 1970s.

But he has also frequently run afoul of doping rules, with dozens of failed tests over his many-decade career, including five in the past year.

After Medina Spirit's positive test, Churchill Downs suspended Baffert from racing at the track. Baffert announced yesterday he will not travel to Baltimore to watch Saturday's race.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
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