‘Horse racing’s legitimacy at stake’: Troubleshooters investigate drug test positives

In 2021, a Derby-winning disqualification, suspension and ban was handed down after the horse that finished first drug tested positive for betamethasone, a bann
Updated: May. 2, 2022 at 6:00 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - What happened at the Kentucky Derby in 2019 was bad enough when Maximum Security got disqualified. What happened in 2020 was worse.

Trainer Jason Servis was accused of administering performance-enhancing drugs to his horses, including Maximum Security, in an alleged horse doping conspiracy against the prominent trainer and more than two dozen others that’s already landed one of them in prison for five years.

One year later, a Derby-winning disqualification, suspension and ban after the horse that finished first drug tested positive for betamethasone, a banned race day substance.

Then Medina Spirit died after a workout in December.

The topic of the Louisville Forum in April: Is horse racing’s legitimacy at stake at Derby 148?

“I would just say horse racing’s legitimacy is at stake period,” Ed DeRosa of Horse Racing Nation answered.

Spirited arguments ensued between the panelists, including suspended trainer Bob Baffert’s attorney, Clark Brewster, Louisville Thoroughbred Society’s Gene McLean, and DeRosa.

“Betamethasone as a salve is permitted,” Brewster said. “There’s no question about it.”

“That’s not true, Clark,” McLean said. “That’s not true. I do not think any drug should be in a barn of any trainer.”

“That’s nonsense,” Brewster said. “It shows you’ve never been around a barn where horses are cared for and treated. That’s nonsense!”

“The biggest question I get is, ‘Why are drugs in a horse’s system at all?’” DeRosa said.

WAVE had questions about that too. More specifically how often positive drug tests are flagged and punished in Kentucky.

We went through every disciplinary action ruling by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards in 2020, 2021, and thus far in 2022. All 180 of them noted the infraction, the horse, the track and the punishment.

There were a total of 75 drug infractions, with 28 at Churchill Downs, the most of any Kentucky track. Substances flagged include Cardarine, which the World Doping Agency banned as a performance-enhancing substance.

Trainer Judd Becker got a 365-day suspension and $10,000 fine with stewards noting a history of numerous violations.

Bob Baffert’s 90-day suspension for betamethasone was in there too from the Kentucky Derby. He also popped up for a betamethasone positive in Gamine after the 2020 Kentucky Oaks.

“The rule was put in place August 26,” Brewster said. “The race was September 3. So the horse had already been treated by the time the rule was in place. It’s blatantly unfair.”

The findings with shared to several people, including Animal Wellness Action director Marty Irby.

“Not surprising at all,” Irby said. “I think we’ve known for a long time that drugging in American horse racing runs rampant.”

Irby was given the names of substances that got flagged and punished in post-race testing, including things like phenylbutazone, clenbuterol, naproxen, dexamethasone, methocarbamol, cardarine and meloxicam.

“Yes these are meds that are given to horses,” Irby said. “In many instances, they’re given to perform better. But also to cover up injuries they may have and mask pain and a lot of times these are the injuries that lead to breakdowns on the track.”

“My point is, when you look at the regulatory authorities we have in place now and the fact you can have a violation for a legal medication, to have the semantics and constant inferring of something nefarious, trying to make it negative, has really hurt our industry,” Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association CEO Eric Hamelback said.

Hamelback said a massive study was done on 243,000 samples in all of horse racing.

“You come up with 99.57% violation free,” Hamelback said. “So I think the facts bare out that we’ve done a very good job.”

“I struggle as a fan of the sport where people say, ‘Oh, drugs and horses,’” DeRosa said. “These are things that are allowed to be in a horse. They pushed the envelope a little to try to get to the race, it backfired, and you should be punished.”

“It’s just making the whole industry look worse and worse,” Irby said. “If you’re looking at sports out there across the board, how they’re identified, it’s at the bottom of the barrel in all of sports in the United States.”

WAVE — Louisville and Southern Indiana's NBC affiliate. Follow us on Twitter & Instagram...
WAVE — Louisville and Southern Indiana's NBC affiliate. Follow us on Twitter & Instagram @wave3news.(WAVE)

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