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EXPLAINER: Derby winner’s failed test latest in horse doping

Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby winner, failed a postrace drug test, raising new doubts about horse doping in the sport after the colt’s blood sample was discovered to be in violation of the state’s racehorse medication regulations.

Medina Spirit tested positive for the drug betamethasone, according to trainer Bob Baffert. According to Baffert, the test revealed 21 picograms of betamethasone. A picogram is a trillionth of a gram, however the test is for picograms per milliliter, and a horse’s blood can be 50,000 milliliters.

The usage of the steroid is restricted in Kentucky to 14 days or more before a race. On race day, any amount of detection constitutes a violation.

If the violation is confirmed in a second round of testing, Medina Spirit will be disqualified and Mandaloun will be declared the Kentucky Derby winner.

It’s the latest high-profile drug breach in horse racing, which was rocked last year when two trainers and 25 people were indicted in a wide-ranging doping scandal. After years of debate, changes are on the way to standardize medicine in horse racing, but a measure passed by the US Congress won’t take effect until next year.

Here’s how Medina Spirit got here and what’s coming up next:

Q. WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF BETAMETHASONE IN HORSES?

A. It’s a steroid that’s used to relieve inflammation in the joints of horses. It’s not a performance-enhancing substance. However, horses with betamethasone in their systems may have an edge over those who do not experience the therapeutic benefits while racing.

Kentucky restricts the usage of the steroid to 14 days or more before to a race, in order to ensure that the horse’s system is clear before entering the starting gate.

Betamethasone is a “potent, long-acting, synthetic glucocorticoid widely utilized in equine veterinary medicine as a steroidal anti-inflammatory,” according to the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium. It’s a synthetic corticosteroid that can be applied topically but is most commonly injected into the joints of horses.

Q. HAS BETAMETHASONE BEEN FOUND IN OTHER BAFFERT HORSES?

A. The same chemical was discovered in Baffert’s filly Gamine, which resulted in her disqualification from the Kentucky Oaks in 2020. That decision was not appealed by Baffert. Contamination was claimed as a reason for this and earlier infractions by the trainer, who has denied supplying the steroid to Medina Spirit.

Q. WHY DID THE DRUG TEST FAIL FOR MEDINA SPIRIT?

A. Betamethasone is a Class C medication that can be used therapeutically in Kentucky. However, Medina Spirit’s post-race test results were in violation of Kentucky state law, which prohibits the usage of the steroid 14 days or more prior to a race.

Without extenuating circumstances, a trainer’s first infraction carries a fine of at least $1,000. After Gamine, this would be Baffert’s second betamethasone violation in less than a year.

Q: DOES BAFFERT HAVE ANY HORSE DOPING HISTORY?

A. Not with performance-enhancing substances, despite the fact that this is Baffert’s fifth drug violation in the last 13 months. Gamine was found to have 185 picograms of lidocaine and Baffert-trained Charlatan 46 picograms of lidocaine during racing at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas last year, which resulted in a suspension that was reversed on appeal.

Merneith, another Baffert horse, tested positive for the cough suppressant dextrorphan after racing at Del Mar in California last summer.

Justify was declared the winner of the 2018 Santa Anita Derby by the California Horse Racing Board after postrace testing revealed the horse had scopolamine, which is sometimes used to treat mild colic and spasms and can also show up as a result of environmental contamination when horses eat hay containing jimsonweed, which grows wild in California.

Q. HOW ARE HORSES TESTED, AND HOW MANY HAVE PASSED THIS YEAR?

A. Because the number of horses tested positive for betamethasone, other chemicals, or performance-enhancing medications vary by state, there is no centralized database to track how many horses have tested positive.

A bill aimed at adopting consistent, transparent, and enforceable doping laws across all racing jurisdictions was just passed into law and will take effect in July 2022.

Q. BAFFERT, WHAT’S NEXT FOR MEDINA SPIRIT?

The owners of Medina Spirit and A. Baffert requested a split sample from the colt for a second round of testing. A split sample is a method of re-testing to ensure that the steroid is present. The findings of the sample could take longer than a week to be processed, clearing the record or resulting in a DQ.

Medina Spirit and Baffert’s Concert Tour were scheduled to travel to Baltimore for the Preakness on Monday. If the horses compete in the second jewel of the Triple Crown, Baffert indicated he wouldn’t be going to Baltimore, leaving assistant Jimmy Barnes to saddle them.

Officials with the Preakness said they will make a decision on Medina Spirit’s entry after analyzing the facts, and the post position draw has been put back to Tuesday afternoon.

Q. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE PRIZE MONEY IN THE EVENT OF MEDINA SPIRIT’S DISQUALIFICATION?

A. If Medina Spirit is disqualified from the Kentucky Derby, Mandaloun’s owners and trainer will get the $1.86 million winner’s share of the purse money. Dancer’s Image, who won the Derby in 1968, is the only prior winner to be disqualified after the race due to a positive postrace drug test for the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine phenylbutazone.

Q. WHAT EFFECT WOULD THE HORSE’S DISQUALIFICATION HAVE ON BETTORS?

A. Unlike when Maximum Security, the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner, was disqualified for obstructing other horses and Country House was raised to first, bettors will not be affected in any way if Medina Spirit’s victory is nullified.

Because the race has been declared legitimate, no betting money will be exchanged between those who predicted Medina Spirit or Mandaloun to win the Derby. Never mind the potential payout for the superfecta, which would have included 27-1 Mandaloun, 6-1 Hot Rod Charlie, 3-1 favorite Essential Quality, and 42-1 long shot O Besos.

https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP Sports for more AP sports.

Source: https://apnews.com/article/doping-sports-d9c5b2a41d2c83a9f05dcf790fc6f4f1

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