Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winning horse Medina Spirit was not allowed entry into the Belmont Stakes after the New York Racing Association (NYRA) issued a suspension against Baffert last month. The 68-year-old trainer and his legal team are fighting back against this suspension with a lawsuit.
The NYRA suspension came on the heels of Medina Spirit testing positive for a banned drug called betamethasone after his win in the Kentucky Derby. The indefinite suspension disallows Baffert from entering horses into horse racing events at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, and Aqueduct Racetrack.
Baffert Is Arguing That the NYRA Acted Too Quickly
Bob Baffert vehemently denied any wrongdoing in the days immediately following Medina Spirit’s failed test. Baffert later issued a statement that Medina Spirit had been treated with an anti-fungal ointment for dermatitis called Otomax, and that it was possible that the betamethasone found in the drug test may have come from that ointment.
This lawsuit is not outright denying any wrongdoing. It is instead focusing on the fact that the NYRA’s swift suspension of Baffert did not give the trainer his legal right to defend himself.
The Fourteenth Amendment states that the government can’t remove a citizen’s property interests. It must first satisfy certain procedural safeguards. A citizen’s property interests include their license to engage in a profession.
Baffert’s legal team is arguing that Baffert’s suspension came without any formal allegations from the New York Gaming Commission and without any type of hearing or notice. The trainer should not have had his right to participate in the Belmont Stakes revoked without due process.
There Is Prior Legal Precedent to Baffert’s Argument
The NYRA is a private company, not a government agency. This means that the Fourteenth Amendment would not apply. Baffert’s attorneys must convince the court that the NYRA works on behalf of the Gaming Commission (a government agency).
Baffert’s team does have some past precedent to build off of. A successful appeal of Samuell v. NYRA found that even though an illegal electric shock device had been seen falling from the jockey’s mount, that jockey still had a right to defend himself before having his livelihood taken away.
The same argument is being made here. The NYRA made no investigation of its own and suspended Baffert based solely on the accusations of another jurisdiction that hadn’t even finished its own investigation, his team contends. Baffert believes he was denied fair procedure leading up to the suspension.
This will be an interesting case to follow as it could establish the NYRA’s power and process in such matters in the future.