No Ruling Yet in Baffert, NYRA Lawsuit

A hearing for Bob Baffert’s civil suit against the New York Racing Association was adjourned July 12 without Judge Carol Bagley Amon rendering a verdict in the Hall of Fame trainer’s bid to overturn NYRA’s temporary suspension that is blocking him from entering and racing horses at its three racetracks.

Judge Amon said she will take the testimony from attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit under advisement and issue a ruling later at an unspecified date. The hearing was held at the U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In proceedings that lasted for about 90 minutes and with Baffert sitting alongside his attorneys in the Brooklyn courtroom, Amon heard testimony from W. Craig Robertson III representing Baffert and Henry Greenberg representing NYRA.

Robertson based much of his arguments on NYRA’s failure to provide the two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer with due process through a hearing before its May 17 announcement of a temporary suspension blocking Baffert from entering and racing horses at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park, and Aqueduct Racetrack, and the irreparable harm the suspension has caused Baffert.

That suspension took effect a little more than a week after it was announced the Baffert-trained Medina Spirit  failed a post-race drug test following his victory in the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).

“NYRA, without a scintilla of due process, suspended Mr. Baffert. That suspension is now at 56 days,” Robertson said. “Even in Kentucky, the racing commission can only suspend him for 30 days. By suspending him without due process, they are acting as judge, jury, and executioner. They acted in a manner of fire, ready, aim. His constitutional right to due process was violated. NYRA is acting outside of its authority.”

When Judge Amon asked Greenberg why NYRA did not conduct a hearing, he said Baffert could request a hearing following the Aug. 11 meeting of NYRA’s board of directors when the length and terms of the suspension will be announced. 

Greenberg added Baffert did not respond to the suspension until the following month, showing no urgency on the trainer’s part, and that Baffert should have requested a hearing.

“He had to demand one?” Judge Amon asked.

Greenberg said NYRA had the power to suspend Baffert and it acted quickly to fulfill its role of “protecting the integrity of racing, the jockeys, and the sport” given how Baffert had horses that failed a drug test in the 2020 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), the 2021 Kentucky Derby, and a total of five drug violations in roughly a year. Greenberg said having violations in races as prestigious as the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks played a role in wanting to make sure Baffert did not have a starter at NYRA tracks and the June 5 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1).

For the first time in recent memory horses take to the Main track this early at the Saratoga Race Course for training due to the extensive renovation of the Oklahoma Training Center which is usually the first venue in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. to open to the early arrivals of thoroughbreds in the Spa City April 18, 2021.   Photo by Skip Dickstein
Photo: Skip Dickstein

“NYRA has millions of fans it had to show that it cared,” he said. “It is unconscionable the harm that was done to racing when (Baffert) smeared the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks and had five violations in the space of a year. Racing has the right to protect itself.”

Judge Amon later asked, “Doesn’t the public also have an interest in people’s constitutional rights being violated?”

Greenberg pointed out how the Baffert-trained Gamine  had been disqualified from third in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, also after a drug test found 27 picograms per milliliter of betamethasone in her system. Medina Spirit had 21 picograms.

Robertson contended that betamethasone was in Medina Spirit’s blood because of using a topical ointment to treat a skin disease, meaning it was betamethasone valerate and not the outlawed-on-race-day betamethasone acetate, which is injected into the horse. Because of that difference, Robertson expects that Medina Spirit and Baffert will be ultimately cleared by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Robertson also stressed the importance of being able to race in major New York stakes to Baffert’s career.

“In sports, denying someone the opportunity to participate is doing irreparable harm. Opportunities lost cannot be retrieved,” Robertson said. “Mr. Baffert has worked for 46 years to get to the point where he has clients who supply him with the best horses to run in the best races. If he cannot compete in those races, it harms his business.”

2019 Travers Day
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

When Judge Amon raised a question about the extent of the harm to Baffert’s livelihood, and voiced skepticism about it destroying his career, Robertson talked about the importance owners place on running at Saratoga and the Triple Crown, which includes the Belmont Stakes, and how they will look for different trainers in order to race in those settings.

In regards to a question about which horses in Baffert’s barn would run at Saratoga if the ban was lifted, Robertson listed just two with specific races: Illumination  in the Aug. 7 Longines Test Stakes (G1) and Gamine in the Aug. 28 Ketel One Ballerina Stakes (G1). Robertson also mentioned Fenway , but did not specify which race the colt was targeting. 

“This is like a lawyer who builds up a great practice and then gets barred from practicing in federal court,” Robertson said. “He could still practice in state court, but he would miss out on the biggest and best cases. Harm would be done to him.”

Greenberg downplayed the impact, saying Baffert averages just five starters a year at Saratoga and that 97% of his horses start in other states.

Neither Baffert nor the attorneys offered any comments after the hearing.

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