A retired New York State Supreme Court Justice recommended a two-year suspension Wednesday for Bob Baffert for repeated medication violations after the two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer's hearing with the New York Racing Association.
The 50-page ruling by hearing officer O. Peter Sherwood is not a final decision. Baffert's camp and NYRA each have 14 days to offer rebuttals before a three-person panel rules on his status.
"NYRA met its burden with respect to all three of the charges against Baffert," Sherwood wrote in his opinion, referring to charges of conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing, the health and safety of horses and jockeys, and the organization's business operations. "NYRA maintains (and the record shows) that Baffert has engaged in a pattern and practice of unlawful conduct that has no parallel in the modern history of thoroughbred racing."
The panel's decision cannot be appealed through NYRA's process, which was developed last year after Baffert successfully sued in federal court to get his initial suspension in the state of New York lifted. That suspension in May came before the Belmont Stakes and after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that was not permitted in a horse's system on race day.
Churchill Downs suspended Baffert for two years, leaving him unable to enter horses in the Kentucky Derby this year and next. Baffert is fighting that ban in federal court, and his legal team could also continue fighting any discipline imposed in New York.
"Despite the fact that Bob has never had a single medication violation in New York, we expected this interim recommendation to the panel, which is not NYRA's final decision," attorney Clark Brewster said in a statement. "We will contest this recommendation until we ultimately find a neutral, detached decision-maker that doesn't rubber stamp the NYRA lawyers' demands."
NYRA declined additional comment, deferring to the report.
Baffert on April 3 began serving a 90-day suspension imposed by the state of Kentucky for medication violations. The suspension will be honored in all 38 states where horse racing occurs and would mean no Baffert-trained horses in the Preakness on May 21 or the Belmont on June 11.
He already has transferred horses to other trainers so they can run in the Derby on May 7.
Baffert's future at NYRA's three tracks - Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course - depends on the panel's final decision.
If Saratoga attorney John J. Carusone, New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association executive director Will Alempijevic and New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America leader the Rev. Humberto Chavez take up Sherwood's full recommendation, Baffert would be banned at NYRA tracks until summer 2024.
Medina Spirit tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone, which is not allowed in Kentucky on race day, and was later disqualified. The colt finished third in the Preakness two weeks after the Derby.
Medina Spirit collapsed and died in December in California. An exam found no definitive cause of death.
Baffert-trained Cruel Intention, Eclair, Charlatan, Gamine and Merneith also tested positive for a substance not allowed at that level on race day. Those violations occurred in California, Arkansas or Kentucky; none was in New York.
"These banned substances had the capacity to affect their performance," Sherwood wrote.
Baffert, 69, is a Hall of Fame trainer who has become the face of the sport. He won the Triple Crown twice: in 2015 with American Pharoah and in 2018 with Justify.