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May 17, 2024 10:55 am

Bob Baffert is back, seeking ninth Preakness amid controversies

bob baffert

BALTIMORE — There is little doubt that Bob Baffert is one of the most accomplished horse trainers in North American history. He is only one of two trainers in the annals of the sport to have conditioned two Triple Crown winners.

However, his illustrious career has had its share of controversy that, for now, has derailed his chances at an unprecedented third Triple Crown. Nevertheless, he has managed to maintain his status as the top trainer of the series’ second jewel and will be seeking to tally his ninth Preakness win on Saturday in the 149th running of the event at Pimlico.

Baffert will send Imagination to post, one of two colts he initially targeted for the race. Muth, who has never finished worse than second in his career, was installed as the early Preakness favorite but was scratched on Wednesday after spiking a fever.

“We are sick about this,” Baffert said in a statement. “(Muth) had been doing really well. But we have to do what’s right by the horse.”

Muth’s misfortune was just another of a series of recent setbacks for the 71-year-old U.S. Racing Hall of Famer.

In 2015, Baffert was on top of the sport after his pupil American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Three years later, Baffert’s Justify repeated the feat, but his accomplishment was brought into question due to doping allegations — a theme that would recur and ultimately land Baffert a three-year ban from competing in the Kentucky Derby.

In 2019, the New York Times reported that Justify had tested positive for the banned substance scopolamine subsequent to his win in the Santa Anita Derby. The positive test, which would have vacated the win and rendered him ineligible for the Kentucky Derby, was never announced by the California Horse Racing Board and the case was ultimately dismissed.

Baffert would not be so fortunate with regulators in Kentucky. In 2020, his filly Gamine was disqualified from her third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks after testing positive for betamethasone. The following year, Medina Spirit became the third horse in Kentucky Derby history to be disqualified from a victory after testing positive for the same drug. These infractions earned Baffert a two-year suspension from all Churchill Downs-owned tracks, which was subsequently extended through the end of this year.

During the first two years of his suspension, Baffert transferred several of his promising 3-year-olds to other trainers so that they might earn enough qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. This included National Treasure, who was transferred to Tim Yakteen while on the 2023 Kentucky Derby trail. He was back under Baffert’s tutelage when he won last year’s Preakness by a nose.

In January, Baffert announced that none of his prized pupils would be transferred to other trainers this season — effectively eliminating them from capturing the Triple Crown. A last-ditch effort was made by Muth’s owners, Zedan Racing Stables, who filed a lawsuit on April 3 requesting injunctive relief to get the colt into the Kentucky Derby field. On April 29, a judge denied the motion.

Therefore, Baffert’s opportunity to add to his 17 American Classic wins this year begins in Baltimore with Imagination, who has not competed since his second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6.

“We would like to have won it. But I liked the fact that (Imagination) gutted it out pretty well,” Baffert said on a conference call with reporters.

“… And I think he’s improved. Every race he’s improving. And I think distance is not going to be a problem for him. And it’s going to be a tough field. There’s good horses in there. The trip (to Baltimore is) going to make a big difference.”

–Tim Dwyer, Field Level Media

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