Opting to not approve a two-year suspension to Bob Baffert on New York Racing Association circuits recommended through a hearing adviser, a three-person NYRA panel issued a curtailed suspension on June 23 to the Hall of Fame coach who is expected to last until January 25, 2023.
The jury formally granted Baffert a one-year suspension, although they credited him with the 59 days discounted under the NYRA’s previous temporary suspension, as well as the 90-day suspension issued by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and mutually honored by the New York State Gaming Commission. . The jury’s decision came two months after the Hearing Officer’s recommendation, issued by retired New York Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood.
Baffert’s attorney Clark Brewster asked for any sanctions to be suspended pending administrative and judicial review, but that request was denied in a letter issued by attorney John J. Carusone Jr., one of the panel’s three members. Carusone replied in a letter on Thursday to Baffert’s legal team that no administrative appeals are allowed under the hearing rules procedures of the NYRA, which he 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 jury.
Baffert is nearing the end of a 90-day suspension issued by Kentucky stewards and enforced throughout the country that continues through early July and was the result of the Medina Spirit test positive for betamethasone in the Kentucky Derby in 2021. Woodford Reserve (G1) al Churchill Down. The stewards further disqualified Medina Spirit and imposed a $ 7,500 fine on Baffert, penalties which, along with his suspension, are on appeal.
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Since his 90-day regulation suspension began in April, coaches Sean McCarthy and Tim Yakteen have overseen most of Baffert’s stable.
Kentucky stewards took into account Baffert’s other violations in accessing the penalty spot, as did the panel and Sherwood. During the hearing, NYRA attorney Henry Greenberg said that Baffert has had seven drug violations since July 2019. None have occurred in New York and involved therapeutic drugs.
“From reading the NYRA-selected panel’s decision, it is obvious that they have made an effort to mitigate and generalize the absurd and contradictory ramblings of Peter Sherwood’s order,” Brewster said in a statement delivered to BloodHorse. “But they still capitulated to the will of some NYRA board members who are blindly driven by jealousy and self-interest to destroy Bob.”
When asked about the appeal plans, Brewster replied in a text message that “all options are under review, including direct action.”
Bob Baffert testifies on January 27 in a hearing conducted by the New York Racing Association
Some drugs, such as betamethasone, are allowed for use in equines between breeds, but their presence is prohibited on race day in Kentucky. Baffert’s lawyers say Medina Spirit was exposed to the drug via an antifungal ointment used to treat a skin condition on the foal’s hindquarters.
NYRA’s suspension, similar to a two-year private property ban Churchill Downs Inc. imposed on Baffert until mid-June, only applies to specific tracks: in the case of NYRA, the three tracks it manages, Hippodrome of the aqueduct, Belmont ParkAnd Saratoga racecourse.
Baffert, based in Southern California, rarely runs to New York but will ship horses to compete there, usually in the major races up for grabs. Baffert has won the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) three times, twice with Triple Crown winning horses. He has also won the Travers Stakes (G1) in Saratoga on three occasions.
“This was an impartial and deliberative process that resulted in a long suspension of the sport’s top manager,” said Dave O’Rourke, NYRA president and CEO in a statement. “However, it’s not just about Bob Baffert or any 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 commission can be found here.
Pat McKenna, vice president of communications for NYRA, said no Baffert trainee would be able to race in New York during the suspension with a coach employed by him. Jimmy Barnes has been Baffert’s best assistant in recent years.
McCarthy and Yakteen trained on their own before receiving horses from Baffert this spring. Some of Baffert’s staff, such as grooms and gymnastic riders, joined their operations when the two handlers added Baffert’s horses as he served the suspension.
In September 2021, NYRA delivered an indictment plea to Baffert claiming he had engaged in conduct that was detrimental to the best interests of the sport of thoroughbred racing or potentially harmful to the health or safety of horses or riders.
NYRA has established hearing rules and procedures to provide a formalized mechanism for a defendant to respond to allegations and attend a hearing in accordance with due process rights. Those proceedings arose after Baffert was successful in court last summer, claiming his right to due process was violated when NYRA initially suspended him last year without a hearing.
Judge Sherwood’s hearing report can be found here.