NYRA Panel Suspends Baffert Through Jan. 25, 2023

Opting not to approve a two-year suspension to Bob Baffert at the New York Racing Association tracks recommended via a hearing officer, a three-person NYRA panel issued a shortened suspension June 23 to the Hall of Fame trainer slated to run through Jan. 25, 2023.

The panel formally gave Baffert a year’s suspension, though it credited him for 59 days served under the prior NYRA temporary suspension as well as the 90-day suspension issued by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and reciprocally honored by the New York State Gaming Commission. The panel’s decision came two months following the hearing officer’s recommendation, issued by retired New York Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood.

Baffert attorney Clark Brewster requested any sanction be stayed pending an administrative and judicial review, but that request was denied in a letter issued by attorney John J. Carusone Jr., one of three members of the panel. Carusone replied in a Thursday letter to Baffert’s legal team that no administrative appeal is permitted under NYRA’s hearing rules procedures, which it created last year.

Will Alempijevic, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and Humberto Chavez of the New York Race Track Chaplaincy were the other two members of the panel.

Baffert is nearing the end of a 90-day suspension issued by Kentucky stewards and applied across the country that continues through early July and was a result of Medina Spirit testing positive for betamethasone in the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) at Churchill Downs. Stewards further disqualified Medina Spirit and issued Baffert a $ 7,500 fine, sanctions that, along with his suspension, are under appeal.

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Since his 90-day regulatory suspension began in April, trainers Sean McCarthy and Tim Yakteen have overseen the bulk of Baffert’s stable.

Stewards in Kentucky took into account other violations from Baffert in accessing their penalty, as did the panel and Sherwood. During the hearing, NYRA attorney Henry Greenberg said Baffert had seven drug violations since July 2019. None occurred in New York, and they involved therapeutic medications.

“From reading the NYRA selected panel’s decision, it is obvious they tried hard to mitigate and generalize the nonsensical and contradictory ramblings of the Peter Sherwood order,” Brewster said in a statement delivered to BloodHorse. “But still they capitulated to the will of a few NYRA board members who are blindly driven by jealousy and self-interest to destroy Bob.”

Asked of appeal plans, Brewster replied in a text message that “all options are being reviewed, including direct actions.”

Photo: BloodHorse Library

Bob Baffert testifies Jan. 27 at a hearing conducted by the New York Racing Association

Some drugs, such as betamethasone, are permitted for use in equines between races but their presence is prohibited on race day in Kentucky. Baffert’s attorneys claim Medina Spirit was exposed to the drug via an anti-fungal ointment used to treat a skin condition on the colt’s hindquarters.

The NYRA suspension, similar to a two-year private-property ban that Churchill Downs Inc. placed on Baffert through mid-June 23, applies only to specific tracks — in NYRA’s case, the three tracks it operates, Racetrack Aqueduct, Belmont Parkand Saratoga Race Course.

Baffert, based in Southern California, runs infrequently in New York but will ship horses to compete there, usually in major stakes races. Baffert has captured the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) three times, twice with Triple Crown-winning horses. He has also won the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on three occasions.

“This was an impartial and deliberative process that has resulted in a lengthy suspension of the sport’s most prominent trainer,” Dave O’Rourke, NYRA president & CEO, said in a release. “However, this is not simply about Bob Baffert or any one individual but about protecting the integrity of the sport here in New York. Today’s decision advances that goal.”

The 14-page decision issued by the hearing panel can be found here.

Pat McKenna, vice president of communications for NYRA, said no Baffert trainees would be able to run in New York during the suspension with a trainer under his employ. Jimmy Barnes has in recent years been Baffert’s top assistant.

McCarthy and Yakteen trained on their own before receiving horses from Baffert this spring. Some of Baffert’s staff, such as grooms and exercise riders, joined their operations when the two trainers added horses from Baffert while he served his suspension.

In September 2021, NYRA delivered a statement of charges to Baffert alleging that he had engaged in conduct detrimental to the best interests of the sport of Thoroughbred racing or potentially injurious to the health or safety of horses or riders.

NYRA established hearing rules and procedures to provide a formalized mechanism for a respondent to reply to charges and to participate in a hearing in accordance with due process rights. Those procedures came about after Baffert was successful in court last summer, arguing that his due process rights had been violated when NYRA suspended him initially last year without a hearing.

The hearing report issued by Judge Sherwood can be found here.

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