The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York should not grant Bob Baffert a preliminary injunction that would permit the embattled trainer to race or stable horses at tracks operated by the New York Racing Association, attorneys for NYRA and The Jockey Club argued in court filings submitted on June 30.
Baffert filed suit against NYRA on June 14, nearly a month after the racing association notified the Hall of Fame trainer that he was temporarily banned from racing or stabling at NYRA tracks while the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission conducts its investigation into the post-race drug positive for Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, who crossed the finish line first in the May 1 Kentucky Derby. Baffert is seeking a temporary and permanent injunction against the ban while claiming his 14th Amendment Constitutional rights to due process were being violated.
As defendant in the case, NYRA filed a memorandum of law in opposition to Baffert’s motion for preliminary injunction. The Jockey Club filed a brief as amicus curiae, or friend of the court, claiming that its role as keeper of the Stud Book gives it a “unique interest in ensuring that when Thoroughbreds enter the breeding shed (where they determine the future of the breed through progeny), they do so with records uninfluenced by the effects of medication.”
Both court filings struck the same note, countering Baffert’s argument that he will suffer irreparable harm as a result of his ban from Belmont Park and the upcoming high-profile meeting at Saratoga in upstate New York where a number of graded stakes are run.
The Jockey Club produced statistics from Equibase showing that Baffert, during the period from 2011-20, made a total of 134 starts at NYRA tracks, representing 3.23% of his total 4,146 North American starts over those years. He’s averaged five starts each year during the Saratoga meet.
The Jockey Club brief dismisses Baffert’s claim that the NYRA ban has “damaged his reputation and prompted a ‘mass exodus’ of owners” from his stable because of their horses’ inability to race at Saratoga while under his care.
“The source of damage to Mr. Baffert’s reputation is not the NYRA temporary suspension; rather, the cause is a record of repeated drug testing failures, including most recently after American racing’s most famous and highly visible race, the Kentucky Derby,” attorneys for The Jockey Club contend.
The Jockey Club brief also points out that Baffert’s complaint only cites one owner transferring a horse or horses to another trainer and does not specify whether that transfer was a result of the NYRA ban, a two-year suspension imposed by Churchill Downs racetrack or “his record of substance violations.”
NYRA’s filing states that Baffert balked after being given an opportunity to respond to a May 17 letter from David O’Rourke, the racing association’s CEO and president, outlining the reasons for the racing and stabling ban. “NYRA expects to make a final determination regarding the length and terms of your suspension based on information revealed during the course of the ongoing investigation in Kentucky,” O’Rourke wrote. “If you wish to present to NYRA any information, data or arguments concerning this matter, please do so within seven business days from receipt of this letter.”
“Rather than avail himself of this opportunity,” the NYRA court document in response to the lawsuit states, “plaintiff filed this action nearly a month later and now moves for a preliminary injunction … plaintiff’s nearly month-long delay in seeking this preliminary injunction undercuts the sense of urgency need to remedy his alleged harm.”
NYRA also counters Baffert’s claim that the racing association is unable to suspend him from its tracks because it does not own the grounds on which the tracks are located. “Settled law holds that NYRA had both the common law and regulatory right to exclude anyone, including a licensed trainer, who engages in conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing,” the court filing claims. “Moreover, plaintiff’s assertion that NYRA violated his due process rights is incorrect. NYRA was not required to provide plaintiff an opportunity to be heard before issuing a temporary suspension because NYRA’s decision was based on probable cause that plaintiff’s actions warranted suspension and was necessary to protect the safety of the racehorses and their riders, and required to ensure the integrity of the sport.
“NYRA is obligated to protect its investment, brand and reputation, and supervise activities at its racetracks in a manner that fosters the public’s confidence in the safety and honesty of the sport.”
NYRA’s response includes a statement from Robert Williams, an attorney and executive director of the New York State Gaming Commission, outlining the rights of exclusion by racetracks in the state and/or stewards working at those tracks.
A second declaration, from Professor Pierre-Louis Toutain, a PhD in pharmacology, states that betamethasone, the corticosteroid detected in Medina Spirit’s post-race sample, has a “potent anti-inflammatory effect,” even at picogram levels (the original finding for Medina Spirit was 21 picograms per mililiter). Citing multiple scientific papers, Toutain concludes that “a plasma concentration of 21 pg/mL is significant for betamethasone, a substance which can locally or systemically increase the performance of a racehorse with or without clinical manifestation of inflammation.”
A hearing on the motion for injunctive relief is scheduled for July 12.
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