WHAT WE HAVE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE

Justify
Justify and Bob Baffert at Pimlico. Photo by Dottie Miller.

I’m trying. I really am.

I want to be outraged about the Bob Baffert situation. I want to be offended for the integrity of the sport.

But when you get right down to it, what I mostly am is exhausted of the whole sorry mess. Tired of picograms and split samples and ointments and injections.

Of Baffert and his endlessly shifting excuses for why betamethasone ended up in Medina Spirit when he won the Kentucky Derby. We didn’t use it! Unless it was in a groom’s pee! While it was cancel culture!

Until – oops! – maybe we actually applied it via an anti-fungal ointment that contains the corticosteroid.

Of his attorney, W. Craig Robertson, who Thursday morning on CNN mounted the “he’s only been suspended twice in his career” defense. Which isn’t quite as bad as the “he hardly ever kills anyone” defense, but it’s trending in that direction.

Of racing’s leadership, which — entirely predictably – has mishandled this episode at every turn.

Why didn’t Churchill Downs, the Maryland Jockey Club, and NYRA get together as soon as the positive came to light to craft a joint strategy as to how they would handle the situation and how they would communicate about it? Why wouldn’t the three Triple Crown tracks collaborate to manage a situation that could harm all of them?

Because reasons. Because horse racing.

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You can tell how disastrously mishandled this has been because we’ll end up spending four of the five weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont talking about Baffert’s positives.

One announcement from the tracks would have, if not put the matter to bed, at least put it down for a nap. Instead, we had the Jockey Club jumping in followed by Churchill announcing a temporary ban on Baffert pending the split sample followed by the MJC announcing Baffert could run in the Preakness if his horses passed enhanced tests followed by NYRA announcing (two days after Medina Spirit lost the Preakness, dashing any Triple Crown hopes, you cynic, you!) that Baffert was persona non grata in the Empire State followed by an attorney for Medina Spirit’s owner, Amr Zedan, announcing the split had come back and confirmed the initial finding followed by a new announcement from Churchill Downs.

Oh, and that’s to say nothing of Santa Anita’s “we’ll wait and see” statement, or Monmouth’s “come on in, Bob, the water’s fine” response.

It’s an approach, in other words, guaranteed to keep the Baffert story front and center even when nothing was going on.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Let’s be clear. This is a serious matter. We have a high-profile trainer who’s popped three medication positives in a year in Grade 1 races, including in our biggest race, and a creaky regulatory apparatus that can’t catch up to him.

That combination puts the entire industry at risk – just as the breakdowns at Santa Anita Park in 2019 put the entire industry at risk.

Add in the missteps and unforced errors in handling it, and you have the moment at which we’ve arrived.

Is the Belmont shaping up to be a good race? Who knows? All anyone knows is that Baffert won’t have a horse in it.

And that, well, it’s just exhausting.

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