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Medina Spirit cleared for Preakness after trainer says horse unknowingly treated with steroid


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Embattled Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit was cleared on Tuesday to run in the Preakness Stakes, hours after the horse’s trainer said it was treated with an ointment which might have led to a failed drug test.

The disclosure by trainer Bob Baffert marked a 180-degree turn from the Hall of Fame horseman’s categorical denial that Medina Spirit had ever been treated with betamethasone, which showed up in the horse’s system after winning the Derby on May 1.

Hours after Baffert’s disclosure, the Maryland Jockey Club announced that Medina Spirit would be allowed to run in the Preakness on Saturday.

The Preakness is run at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and is middle jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

“As a condition of acceptance of the entry, Baffert has provided his consent to the Maryland Jockey Club to allow for rigorous testing and monitoring in addition to that conducted by the Maryland Racing Commission,” according to a club statement.

Baffert pledged to allow race administrators to take blood samples on Tuesday — and at any time moving forward — from Medina Spirit and two other horses from his stable running in major races this week in Baltimore, the trainer’s lawyer said.

Concert Tour is in the $1.5 million Preakness with Medina Spirit and Beautiful Gift is in the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday.

“Mr. Baffert has given these consents to further the interests of horse racing and the public,” his attorney W. Craig Robertson wrote in a letter to the Maryland Jockey Club. “The integrity of the sport is of the utmost importance to Mr. Baffert and by consenting to this testing regimen and monitoring he reaffirms his commitment and dedication to the sport.”

Medina Spirit on Tuesday was picked to break from the No. 3 slot in Saturday’s Preakness and was named morning line favorite at 9-5 odds.

“If there is or was any betamethasone or any other medications, whether therapeutic or illegal, in the horse we will know about them before the race,” Dionne Benson, chief veterinary officer for the Stronach Group which owns and operates Pimlico, told reporters following the post-position draw.

“This allows us to, instead of addressing the issue after the fact, prevent the issue from becoming a problem.”

Baffert on Sunday revealed that Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, which put his Derby win in question. Officials at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is run, said shortly after Baffert’s announcement that he would be suspended indefinitely from the track.

After the 3-year-old finished second at the Santa Anita Derby on April 3, Medina Spirit “developed dermatitis on his hind end” before a veterinarian “recommended the use of an anti-fungal ointment called Otomax,” Baffert said in a statement Tuesday.

“Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in Otomax is betamethasone,” according to Baffert’s statement.

“While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results. As such, I wanted to be forthright about this fact as soon as I learned of this information.”

Baffert had flat-out denied that Medina Spirit was given betamethasone.

“The really troubling thing is … is that the horse has never treated with that specific drug,” Baffert told Peacock Network’s “The Dan Patrick Show” on Monday. “So we’re at a loss for words, trying to figure out how he got contaminated.”

Betamethasone is legal but any traces of that drug must be out of horse’s system by the time it races, under Kentucky racing codes.

The steroid can help a horse manage pain and inflammation, but could dangerously mask more serious bone and joint issues.

Mary Scollay, executive director and chief operating officer of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said she found it hard to believe Baffert and his veterinarian weren’t aware betamethasone was in this medication.

“It’s on the tube,” an incredulous Scollay told NBC News on Tuesday. “It’s almost an aggravating circumstance at this point.”

And Joe Bertone, who teaches at Western University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, California, said it’s common knowledge that Otomax contains betamethasone.

“They should know,” said Bertone, who specializes in equine medicine. “I’m not going say they did know and they did this on purpose. I’m just telling you they should have known and it’s really a bad screw up.”

Alexander Mitchell and Lauren Mammini contributed.

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