UPDATE: Judge nullifies horse trainer Bob Baffert’s NY suspension

Update on July 14, 2021:

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York federal judge on Wednesday nullified the suspension of horse trainer Bob Baffert, finding that the New York Racing Association acted unconstitutionally by failing to let him adequately respond to claims made against him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test.

In her written ruling, Brooklyn Judge Carol Bagley Amon said a prompt post-suspension hearing where Baffert could refute the claims was required to meet constitutional muster.

But she said the racing association “had held no hearing — let alone a prompt one.”

Attorney W. Craig Robertson III, who represented Baffert at a Monday hearing before Amon, said the ruling confirms that “following the Kentucky Derby, there was an improper rush to judgment and Mr. Baffert has been treated unfairly.”

He called Amon’s ruling “one step, in one venue, toward righting those wrongs,” and said he hoped it would lead to cooperation between the parties rather than division.

“Bob Baffert and NYRA have had a good relationship in the past. My hope is that they can get to that point again for the overall good of horse racing,” he said.

Dave O’Rourke, president of the NYRA, said in a statement the association is reviewing the court’s decision to determine its “legal options and next steps.”

O’Rourke said the association suspended Baffert to “protect the integrity of thoroughbred racing.”

Amon said she concluded that Baffert had established a likelihood he will prove the suspension violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

She said he also made a “strong showing” that there would be irreparable harm if the suspension was not overturned.

Amon noted that lawyers for the New York Racing Association had argued at a hearing Monday in Brooklyn that the public depends on it to ensure races are conducted in a fair and honest manner and to protect the integrity of the sport.

“That may be true, but the public has no interest in having the ‘integrity of the sport’ enforced by unconstitutional means,” she wrote.

On Monday, Henry Greenberg, arguing for the racing association, said the organization acted quickly because the Belmont Stakes, the third prong of horse racing’s Triple Crown, was fast approaching.

The NYRA operates Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course.

In Baffert’s lawsuit last month seeking to get the suspension lifted, the Hall of Famer contended he was suspended without “any prior notice” and was not told the duration or terms of the suspension or any New York state law or regulation he might have violated.

The suspension would have eliminated Baffert’s ability to enter horses at Saratoga, which opens Thursday.

“The 2021 Saratoga summer meet is a one-time opportunity. And given that many of the races are limited to horses of a certain age, an inability to compete in those races now means those horses will never have the chance,” the judge wrote.

“Baffert will face substantial damage to his income, client base, and reputation if he cannot enter horses at NYRA races for the indefinite future. He has already lost one prominent client and stands to lose others, and has been deprived of the ability to compete at Belmont,” she said.

 

Original story below from July 12, 2021:

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York judge was sympathetic Monday to horse trainer Bob Baffert’s claims that his May suspension by the New York Racing Association — after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test — was unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon at a Brooklyn hearing repeatedly pressed a lawyer for the racing association to explain why the suspension was issued before Baffert was given a chance to defend himself.

Henry Greenberg, arguing on behalf of the racing association, said Baffert will get a hearing after the association announces the length of his suspension by Aug. 11.

“Isn’t that a little too late?” the judge asked, noting that the duration will be announced months after he was suspended. “The problem I have, counsel, is that he was suspended and it’s up in the air.”

She said the racing association attacked his credibility as it issued the suspension, but never gave him the chance to speak on his own behalf about what happened.

“How does that comply with due process?” the judge asked.

At another point, Amon said: “You just sent him a letter saying, ‘You’re out,’ with no due process whatsoever.”

Greenberg repeatedly said the NYRA, which operates Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course, took the action to protect the integrity of the sport.

He said the association had to act fast because the Belmont Stakes, the third prong of horse racing’s Triple Crown, was fast approaching in early June.

The lawyer noted that the Kentucky Derby test was the fifth time in the past year that a horse trained by Baffert tested positive for drugs.

“Rarely in the history of the sport has there been such a confluence of drug positives involving so prominent a trainer,” association lawyers wrote in court papers.

In Baffert’s lawsuit last month seeking to get the suspension lifted, the Hall of Famer contended he was suspended without “any prior notice” and was not told the duration or terms of the suspension or any New York state law or regulation he might have violated.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Amon did not immediately rule.

Arguing on Baffert’s behalf, attorney W. Craig Robertson III said it was unfair of the racing association to suspend his client without the completion of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding what he called the “alleged test” on Medina Spirit.

Robertson said it was possible that traces of betamethasone were found in the horse’s system as a result of an ointment applied to the horse to treat a skin rash three weeks before the race. The unregulated ointment, he said, contained betamethasone.

Churchill Downs suspended Baffert for two years after an additional drug test of Medina Spirit confirmed betamethasone in the horse’s system. Baffert cannot enter any horses in the Kentucky Derby or other races at the storied Louisville track through the spring of 2023.

Robertson contended that the New York suspension would be the “death knell” to Baffert’s training business because New York’s Saratoga Race Course, which reopens Thursday, is a pivotal stop for a young horse destined for greatness.

He said a top horse farm in Kentucky had already taken two prize horses from Baffert’s care and another producer of elite horses was considering finding another trainer if Baffert cannot enter horses in New York races.

Outside court, Baffert and his lawyers declined comment after the hearing.

 

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