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Opinion: Horse racing can breathe a sigh of relief as Medina Spirit’s Triple Crown bid ends

  • May 16, 2021

If you felt a slight breeze running on the East Coast at around 7 p.m. Saturday night, it was probably a collective exhale from the New York Racing Association and the folks at Belmont Park, which hosts the final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. 

When the Kentucky Derby winner loses the Preakness, it’s typically a Belmont bummer — the difference between one of the biggest American sporting events of the year and a race that casual viewers generally avoid. But this time, as Medina Spirit faded down the Pimlico stretch to a distant third-place finish behind 11-1 shot Rombauer, it was almost certainly a blessing for all involved. 

There will be no talk of split sample drug tests and a disputed Triple Crown for the next three weeks. There won’t be any risk of rowdy New Yorkers booing Medina Spirit as he runs for history. There won’t be such intense focus on trainer Bob Baffert’s failed drug tests and what’s wrong with the sport. 

In fact, there won’t be much focus on horse racing at all. After the spectacle of the last week, it’s probably the best possible outcome. 

146th Preakness Stakes:Rombauer storms to victory; Medina Spirit finishes third

To be clear, Medina Spirit’s finish at Pimlico doesn’t really suggest much one way or the other about whether the betamethasone that was found in his system after winning the Kentucky Derby enhanced his performance that day. But for casual fans of the sport who tuned in to see how the horse would run on a day when we know he was clean, it’s going to be a difficult narrative for Baffert to combat. 

had to pass multiple drug tests as a condition of allowing them to run. One of them, Beautiful Gift, finished seventh as the favorite in Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for fillies. Baffert’s other Preakness entry, Concert Tour, was never a factor and finished ninth in the 10-horse field. Though it was clear at the top of the stretch that Medina Spirit was going to be beaten, at least he didn’t embarrass himself. suggested that there’s wiggle room in the rule that should prevent Medina Spirit from being disqualified, which means this could end up in a long legal fight. who watched the race at home in California and is likely to lay low for awhile. 

This is a tough position for Baffert now. When his horses do well in big races going forward, there’s going to be a collective eye-roll about whether rules were bent. That’s the price of having five positive drug tests in major stakes races during a one-year period. But when his horses run poorly, it cuts the other way: Is he really that much better than everyone else when the playing field is level? 

It was certainly level in the Preakness, and Baffert’s horses bombed. Why that happened is conjecture and correlation, but it’s also a fact.

By next summer, horse racing will have in place a robust drug testing program in concert with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency thanks to national legislation that was signed by former President Donald Trump last December. But that won’t encompass next year’s Triple Crown, when Baffert will once again be on the minds of a wide national audience.

Hopefully horse racing can do some cleaning of its own house between now and then. In the meantime, not having a tainted Triple Crown winner is a small relief for a sport in need of big reform. 

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