The second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, is coming up this Saturday. It will be aired on NBC with coverage from 5 to 7:30 p.m. EST. I will watch it as always but I decided that I won’t be handicapping or betting on the race this year. Why? To put it mildly, I’m a little disenchanted with the sport right now. This year’s Kentucky Derby fiasco was sort of the last straw for me after the 2019 debacle. I simply do not want to invest my time and money until major changes are made in the sport.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (probably a good thing if you were a horse racing fan), I’m sure that you already know that Medina Spirit‘s win is in jeopardy due to a positive test for Betamethasone and faces possible disqualification. How much of a performance advantage Betamethasone provides, or doesn’t provide, is not the central issue to me. The central issue is that Betamethasone’s acceptable level in post-race testing was changed in Kentucky from 10 pg to zero last August. Medina Spirit tested with a level of 21 pg after the Kentucky Derby
Medina Spirit’s trainer, Bob Baffert, had a filly named Gamine who tested with a Betamethasone level of 27 pg last year after the Kentucky Oaks. Gamine was disqualified from her third place finish. Baffert was fined a mere $1500 for this incident. Yet this happened again with Medina Spirit. Why?
It’s pretty simple and straight-forward to me. Since last August, there is zero tolerance for any Betamethasone in post-race testing in the state of Kentucky. You may not agree with the level change but you still have to abide by the rules while you seek to change them.
Baffert originally came out in his first press conference and said that Medina Spirit never got Betamethasone. He blamed “Cancel Culture” and new regulations for the incident. Then a few days later, he admitted that the colt had been treated with Otomax which is a combination product of Gentamicin (an antibiotic), Clotrimazole (an antifungal) and Betamethasone (a corticosteroid) for a patch of dermatitis on the colt’s right hind quarter.
Otomax is indicated for canine acute and chronic otitis externa. For dogs that have the equivalent of Swimmer’s Ear. It is usually given for 7 days. It has been given to horses and cats but this would not be a 1st line agent. Especially to a Derby runner with the knowledge of a zero tolerance Betamethasone policy along with the known fact that topicals can be systemically absorbed to some degree.
So, come on here Bob Baffert. Before going to the national media whining about this ordeal and stating that the colt never received this drug, even if he doesn’t know what every horse in his barn is being treated with, it would have been easy for him to find out. It is a requirement at the time of entry of the Kentucky Derby to provide a medical history and any drugs a Derby runner is currently using or has taken in the past 14 days. Failure to provide accurate information is a rules violation in itself. Churchill Downs could easily provide Baffert with a copy of what was reported.
This begs for the question, do you really think Churchill Downs would go through all the public scrutiny and turmoil if they had the information all along that Medina Spirit was receiving a product that contained Betamethasone and never questioned it or recommended that its use to be stopped immediately for fear of a positive test result?
The problem with the sport of horse racing is that there is no firm-handed central body that controls the sport. A trainer can get potentially DQ’d in the Kentucky Derby for a failed drug test and race the same horse in the Preakness Stakes a few weeks later. Bob Baffert has had 7 of his horses fail drug tests in the past 2 years. Most of his peers have had 1 or none in the same timeframe. In fact, trainer D. Wayne Lukas has had one failed drug test the past 17 years.
This brings up serious questions. Why are other trainers not having the same issues? What other sport allows so many failed drug tests without being suspended or banned for the sport for life?
As a pharmacist with a veterinary pharmacy certification, I also don’t believe that daily topical administration of Otomax is going to produce a level that is going to be the same as 2 days after a 9 mg intraarticular injection (IA) of Betamethasone. Below is a pharmacokinetic chart showing Betamethasone plasma concentration after Intraarticular & Intramuscular administration in horses. Medina Spirit had a 21 pg level (where the red line is at on the chart).
Otomax has 1mg Betamethasone per gram. They come in 7.5 gram, 15 gram & 30 gram tubes. Judging from the pictures of the dermatitis Medina Spirit had and the fact that Baffert said he got it once per day, it is possible to get systemic percutaneous absorption from topicals but I doubt highly that it would produce even a noticeable trace with once-a-day application. The skin is a good barrier and most of the medication is absorbed in tissue, not the bloodstream.
So, I am not buying Bob Baffert’s story. I feel that if you have been caught before as he did with Gamine, you make the necessary changes to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. The sport of horse racing needs to be cleaned up. Fines and penalties need to more severe. Perhaps a Class-Action lawsuit or a Congressional Inquiry would clean up the sport. Drug use killed horse racing and ran off many fans and bettors way back.
At any rate, below is the starting grid, jockey assignments and morning-line odds for the 146th running of the Preakness Stakes. I’ll be rooting for American Pharoah’s son, Ram. I hope Ram wires the field.