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A New York judge on Monday sympathized with horse trainer Bob Baffert’s allegations that his suspension by the New York Racing Association in May after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test was unconstitutional.
US District Judge Carol Bagley Amon, at a hearing in Brooklyn, repeatedly urged a racing association attorney to explain why the suspension was waived before Baffert had a chance to defend himself.
Henry Greenberg, who argued on behalf of the racing association, said Baffert would be heard after the association announced the length of its suspension until August 11.
“Isn’t that a little late?” the judge asked, noting that the duration will be announced months after his suspension. “The problem I have, lawyer, is that he’s been suspended and it’s in the air.”
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She said the racing association attacked his credibility when he issued the ban but never gave him the opportunity to speak about what had happened on his own behalf.
“How does that correspond to due process?” asked the judge.
At another point, Amon said, “You just sent him a letter saying, ‘You’re out,’ with no due process whatsoever.”
Greenberg said repeatedly that NYRA, which operates Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course, has taken steps to protect the integrity of the sport.
He said the association needed to act quickly as the Belmont Stakes, the third part of the horse racing’s Triple Crown, was rapidly approaching in early June.
The attorney found that the Kentucky Derby test last year marked the fifth time a horse trained by Baffert had tested positive for drugs.
“Rarely in the history of sport have there been so many positive drug tests with such a prominent coach,” wrote the association’s lawyers in court files.
In Baffert’s lawsuit last month seeking the lifting of his suspension, the Hall of Famer alleged that he was suspended without “notice” and was not given the duration or terms of the suspension, or any statute or ordinance New York that he may have violated.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Amon did not rule immediately.
On behalf of Baffert, attorney W. Craig Robertson III argued that it was unfair for the racing association to suspend his client without completing an investigation into what he called the “alleged test” of Medina Spirit.
Robertson said it was possible that traces of betamethasone were found in the horse’s body as a result of an ointment applied to the horse to treat a rash three weeks before the race. The unregulated ointment, he said, contained betamethasone.
Churchill Downs suspended Baffert for two years after an additional drug test from Medina Spirit confirmed betamethasone in the horse’s system. Baffert cannot register horses for the Kentucky Derby or other races on the famous Louisville circuit until spring 2023.
Robertson claimed that the New York suspension would be the “death bell” for Baffert’s training business, as New York’s Saratoga Race Course, reopening Thursday, is a hub for a young horse destined for great things.
He said a top Kentucky horse farm has already taken two award horses from Baffert’s care and another elite horse producer is considering finding another trainer if Baffert can’t enter horses in New York races.
Outside the court, Baffert and his lawyers declined to comment after the hearing.