Medina Spirit

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Today, Derby Day, I’ll be thinking of Medina Spirit. He won the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Then, after testing positive for a substance banned on race days, he was disqualified in late February 2022. So, nine months after the race, Mandaloun was declared winner of the 2021 Run for the Roses.

Two months before the decision to disqualify him, Medina Spirit collapsed and died after a workout in Santa Anita Park in California. That was on December 6, 2021. He was three years and eight months old.

Medina Spirit’s trainer Bob Baffert was also suspended from racing for 90 days starting April 4th. So for the first time in a very long time, we will not see Bob Baffert or any of his horses at this year’s Triple Crown races. I will miss them. Even if I’m not rooting for one of his horses, I know enough to keep a close eye on them before and during the race.

Noble and cherished champion

In April 2022 his ashes were interred at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. He is buried beside Charismatic and War Emblem, two legendary champions and Kentucky Derby winners. On his gravestone, under “noble and cherished champion”, is inscribed:

2021 Kentucky Derby

2021 Robert B. Lewis Stakes

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It seems to me that a statement is being made here: whatever happened at last year’s Derby, Medina Spirit deserves to be honoured. He ran the best races he could, and his best was championship level.

Trainer Bob Baffert

Bob Baffert too has run innumerable good races in his over 30 year career in training Thoroughbreds. Old Friends founder Michael Blowen said about the doping controversy, “I just think he hasn’t been treated very well. If he committed a crime then I guess he has to pay the penalty, but to me, this is giving somebody the death penalty for stealing a Snickers bar.”

If anyone would look carefully at training methods and trainers, I think it would be Michael Blowen. He started Old Friends in 2003, having been horrified by the slaughter of the great racehorse Ferdinand the year before in Japan. If you’re ever in Kentucky, go visit Old Friends. We did in 2007 and Mr. Blowen was our tour guide. It was the high point of a week of wonderful horses, farms and tracks in an incredibly beautiful state.

The sole purpose of Old Friends is to provide a good home for retired racehorses – particularly stallions. In that, they are supported by the general public as well as racehorse owners, jockeys and trainers – including Bob Baffert. Michael Blowen is passionate about proper treatment of horses, so his opinions count for a lot with me.

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Michael Blowen with an old friend and me in December 2007 at Old Friends

But here’s another side, from Pat Forde in Sports Illustrated, May 10, 2021. The article is entitled “Bob Baffert has turned the Medina Spirit controversy into a circus.” After outlining the many times Baffert horses tested positive for drugs in recent years, and Mr. Baffert’s dubious explanations, the author says:

“Much the way Lance Armstrong dominated cycling when it was known to be fueled by doping, Baffert has dominated horse racing in an era of rampant drug use. Are we really supposed to believe that when positive tests are linked to the most successful guy in a drug-riddled sport, he’s actually the innocent victim of circumstance and/or sabotage? Occam’s razor—which stipulates that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex—seems to apply here.”

Complex or Simple?

I don’t know the horse racing industry, so can’t know who’s got what at stake. I do, however, respect Michael Blowen’s opinion. And his farm is now Medina Spirit’s final resting spot.

  • You may also enjoy my story of meeting the great Cigar at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
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