In November of 2020, trainer Bob Baffert announced that he was retaining Dr. Michael Hore of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute to “add an additional layer of protection to ensure the well-being of horses in my care and rule compliance.”
Hore is based in Lexington, Ky., while Baffert’s operation is based in Southern California. Hore is not licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the state of California. The state’s database also contains data on expired/inactive licenses, and he does not appear to have ever had a veterinary license there. Veterinarians are permitted to consult on cases without being licensed in the state, but cannot do diagnostics or perform any treatment.
In the wake of this week’s announcement that Baffert’s trainee Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone after winning on the sport’s biggest stage in the Kentucky Derby, Dr. Hore told bloodhorse.com that the role with Baffert did not materialize.
“Following some initial discussions with Bob and one of my colleagues last fall—and his announcement regarding new procedures to ensure no further medication issues—our role in those procedures did not materialize as intended, because of travel and other restrictions related to COVID-19. He is based in California, we are based in Kentucky,” Baffert’s attorney wrote in an email to bloodhorse.com.
Backstretch traffic at Santa Anita has been restricted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including in November 2020, although licensed veterinarians have always been permitted access to see clients. Veterinarians requesting a racetrack veterinarian license must first have a state veterinary license.
Also in Baffert’s fall announcement to “raise the bar and set the standard for equine safety and rule compliance,” the Hall of Fame trainer pledged to both increase “the training and awareness of all my employees when it comes to proper protocols,” and to increase his own “oversight and commitment to running a tight ship and being careful that protective measures are in place.”
Yet, on Tuesday, 48 hours after his initial press conference announcing the positive test, Baffert claimed that Medina Spirit’s betamethasone positive may have stemmed from the use of a topical ointment called Otomax. Baffert claimed the ointment was prescribed by a veterinarian to treat a skin condition called dermatitis on Medina Spirit’s hind end; betamethasone is listed on the Otomax label as a primary ingredient.
Baffert had been the subject of public criticism prior to this week’s announcement about Medina Spirit’s test, following a series of positive post-race tests for therapeutic drugs in his barn during 2020.
Baffert-trained Chalatan and Gamine both tested positive for lidocaine at Oaklawn Park on May 2, 2020, resulting in a 15-day suspension for the trainer and disqualification of both horses (Gamine from an allowance race and Charlatan from the G1 Arkansas Derby) – sanctions that were ultimately reversed by the Arkansas Racing Commission. Baffert was fined $5,000 instead.
Gamine then tested positive for betamethasone after a third-place finish in the G1 Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4. She was disqualified and placed last and Baffert was fined $1,500. A fourth positive test came when Merneith was found to have dextrorphan in her system after finishing second in a July 25 allowance race at Del Mar. Baffert received a $2,500 fine for that violation.
Hore is a surgeon at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, which is based in Lexington, Ky. According to Hagyard’s website, he specializes in digital radiographs, sales work, lameness, and angular limb deformities and practices in Kentucky, Florida, Maryland, New York, and Europe. Hore is credited with being part of the team that shortlisted Charlatan, Authentic, and Justify for SF Bloodstock. He was also among the veterinarians who signed a settlement agreement with the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners last year after self-reporting for misdating radiographs ahead of public auction.
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