Archives for May 2021


If a split-sample test confirms that ostensible 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit raced with a small amount of betamethasone in his bloodstream, then the consequences for his trainer and owner will be determined by governing Kentucky Racing Commission (KRC) regulatory language.  (The overwhelming majority of split samples corroborate the first sample, although not always.)

The KRC classifies drugs into four categories, with the most potent designated as class A drugs and the least potent as class D drugs.  Betamethasone is a Class C drug. KRC regulations pertaining to Class C drugs state:

“(4)(a) Class C drugs, medications, and substances are those that: (1) Are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and have a lesser potential to influence performance in the equine athlete than Class A drugs, medications, and substances and those Class B drugs, medications, and substances that are classified at that level because they have a high potential to influence performance and are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration; or Legislative Research Commission. (2) Lack approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration, but have pharmacologic effects similar to certain Class D drugs, medications, or substances that are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.”

Specific KRC language concerning the recommended withdrawal period for betamethasone reads:

“k. The following have a fourteen (14) day stand down period for intra-articular injection. Any IA corticosteroid injection within fourteen (14) days is a violation: (i) Betamethasone, via IA administration at 9 mg total dose in a single articular space. Withdrawal time should be increased for use of betamethasone products with a ratio of greater than 1:1 betamethasone acetate to betamethasone sodium phosphate.  Intramuscular administration is associated with substantially longer withdrawal times.”

810 KAR 8:030 specifies “Disciplinary measures and penalties” for a Class 3 violation.

Sanctions for a trainer (in this case, Robert Baffert):

“Second offense within a 365-day period in any racing jurisdiction.  Ten (10) to thirty (30) day suspension absent mitigating circumstances AND $1,500 to $2,500 fine absent mitigating circumstances.”

“Mitigating circumstances.  Evidence of full compliance with the withdrawal guidelines should be considered by the stewards, judges, and the commission as a mitigating factor to be used in determining violations and penalties.”

Sanctions for an owner (in this case, Amr Zedan):

First offense.  “Disqualification and loss of purse AND Horse may be required to pass a commission-approved examination before being eligible to enter as determined by the stewards or judges.”

Importantly, the prescribed penalties for an owner are silent on mitigating circumstances, meaning that the only remedy for a first-offense Class 3 violation is disqualification of the owner’s horse.



The most likely denouement is that the split sample will confirm the betamethasone positive in the first sample.  In that event, the forgoing language concerning the disciplinary penalties for the owner is unambiguous that Medina Spirit must be disqualified as the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner and the owner will accordingly forfeit the purse.

The trainer, who would have two offenses within a 365-day period, would be suspended for ten to thirty days and be fined between $1,500 and $2,500. Irrespective of one’s opinion about the appropriateness of these sanctions, KRC’s controlling language manifestly does not support calls by some groups and individuals to revoke his license or ban him for life.

Moreover, if the trainer were able to provide strong evidence that he was in “full compliance with the withdrawal guidelines” for betamethasone, it is possible that his already light penalties would be reduced. 

The conclusion here is that disqualification is the almost certain outcome, given the clear language in the KRC regulations and the public-relations fallout if Medina Spirit was allowed to remain the Derby winner. Medina Spirit would have the infamous claim to being the second drug-related disqualification in Kentucky Derby history and the second Kentucky Derby winner to be disqualified in the past three years.

A sad byproduct of this episode is that American horse racing is scandalized by a low-level Class C drug positive in the winner of the sport’s most prestigious race, who was trained by the most famous face in U. S. racing. The public will process only that the Kentucky Derby winner was “drugged,” and won’t get into the weeds to find out that the drug was in the Class C category and arguably did not boost the colt’s performance.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


Bettors attribute a winning streak or a losing streak to an array of reasons, some logical and others not so much.  One legitimate reason for a good or bad day betting may be how we feel at a particular time, our state of mind.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (May 15-16, 2021), a vast amount of research, much of it by Australian psychologist Joseph Forgas, demonstrates that “being in a good or bad mood can have a major effect on people’s judgment.”  For example, “a judge might impose a severe sentence on a criminal defendant, in part because the weather is miserable outside.  A doctor might decide to send a patient home rather than to order a battery of tests, in part because it is late in the afternoon and she is a bit tired.  A corporate executive might decide to go forward with a risky project, in part because she had a wonderful weekend with her family.”

Interestingly, “people who are in a good mood are more likely to let their biases affect their thinking.” Moreover, research demonstrates that “being in a good mood makes people more gullible and less apt to detect deception.”  Forgas has found that “people who are in a good mood are more approving of people, they are more generous and helpful, and their judgments are more upbeat,” whereas a negative mood has the opposite effect.” In some cases, a bad mood can actually make us better decision makers, especially when we need to make critical judgments.

And moods are highly correlated to weather…as all of us know intuitively and don’t need psychological research to confirm.

Picture a sun-splashed day at Saratoga or Del Mar, or Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day, and a contagiously festive atmosphere.  A typical bettor at the racetrack would be susceptible to making unwise wagers that he or she might forgo on a snowy day at Aqueduct or Woodbine.  The bettor’s objectivity is impaired by feel-good emotion, the notion that all is well in the immediate world.  On the other hand, a bettor’s mood at frigid Aqueduct or Woodbine might be negatively impacted by the long winter and, consequently, he or she becomes more businesslike—discerning of tips from fellow bettors, more analytical, and less likely to wager on longshots and highly improbable exotics.

The implication for the serious bettor is enjoy yourself, but don’t let an emotion-laden good mood override sound reasoning. 

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


Britannica defines the famous Occam’s razor (also spelled Ockham’s razor), or the law of parsimony, as follows: “principle stated by the scholastic philosopher William of Ockham (1285–1347/49) that pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, ‘plurality should not be posited without necessity.’  The principle gives precedence to simplicity: of two competing theories, the simpler explanation of an entity is to be preferred.” 

The simplest and most likely explanation for Medina Spirit testing positive for 21 picograms of the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone in the 2021 Kentucky Derby is that an individual or individuals intentionally administered it to him rather than some explanation about accidental contamination.

The key questions are: who administered betamethasone, when was it administered, and who knew about it and authorized it?  The best chance for ever answering these queries is through the use of the time-tested determinant of human behavior: incentives.

Consider the grim situation facing the owner (Amr Zedan) and trainer (Bob Baffert) of Medina Spirit.  On their present course, the overwhelming likelihood is that the split sample will corroborate the original sample (95% of split samples confirm the first sample) and the Kentucky State Racing Commission and Churchill Downs will then disqualify Medina Spirit.  Consequently, Baffert and Medina Spirit’s reputations will forever be sullied, the winner’s $1.86 million share of the $3 million Kentucky Derby purse will be forfeited (90% of $1.86 million goes to the owner and 10% each to the trainer and jockey), and the owner will incur huge legal fees in a protracted and uphill battle to get the ruling reversed through the appeals process.

Alternatively, Zedan and Baffert, who has professed his innocence, could pursue and announce as soon as possible an incentive-laden route that has a much higher probability of finding the truth.  A reward of $465,000 (one-fourth of the winner’s share of the Derby purse) would be offered for information leading to the identification of the person or persons who gave Medina Spirit betamethasone.  Wouldn’t this amount be worth it to Zedan and Baffert to absolve the trainer and horse…and possibly even win their appeal?

A law firm specializing in forensics would be put in charge of drafting unambiguous language pertaining to the conditions under which the reward would be paid, including perhaps passing a lie-detector test, and putting into place a method for conveying information to the law firm.

Would, say a groom or hot walker or veterinary assistant privy to the truth, come forward for $465,000? 

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business