The Kentucky Derby Scandal: Are Racehorses Taking Steroids?

Being one one of the most popular horseraces in the world, the Kentucky Derby is used to be on the spotlight, especially during the month of May. Nonetheless, this year around it still remains a popular topic a few weeks after the race ended. How so?

Well, after the race horses are subject of drug tests and if one of them fails they can get disqualified, independently of their position during the race. The scandal came up when the Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s trained by the iconic Bob Baffert failed to test positive during the drug test. Now Medina faces disqualification.

All of this put horse doping back in the spotlight, in a time where horseracing fans should be focusing on the Triple Crown events instead. Especially considering that the Belmont Stakes is just around the corner next week.

Ever since the Medina failed postrace drug test spread, people are once again raising questions about horse doping and how it is not only cheating, but also very unethical and unfair to the horse, since it can bring health complications to the animal in the future.

So, what drug did Medina Spirit test positive for?

The organization of the race took a blood sample for all the horses that participate in the race, and Medina Spirit was assessed positive for betamethasone. The exam results indicated 21 picograms of the steroid betamethasone.

According to the Merriam Webster, picogram is a trillionth of a gram, and the test is for pictograms per millimeter and horses can have 50,000 millimeters of blood. If you are not familiar with it, betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory drug and it is legal within a certain limit. Nonetheless, Baffert didn’t even admit the use of the drug at all, claiming peremptorily that ‘Medina has not been treated with betamethasone”.

Even though every race has different rules when it comes to steroids, the Kentucky Derby officials regulate the use of steroids to 14 days before any race. This means that any level of detection on the race is considered a violation, no matter if it is only 21 picograms.

If officials get the same result on the second set of scanning for drugs, Medina Spirit will be excluded and his victory will be taken away. Then, the second-placed horse in the Derby Mandaloun would be chosen as the winner.

Despite three weeks having passed, the horse racing world is still wondering about the official result of that second round of testing. A couple reasons have delayed the process, apparently, including the fact that no lab has allegedly agreed to test the split sample. We might be here for a while.

What is Betamethasone and Why Is Used for Horses?

Betamethasone is a steroid that is frequently used to reduce swelling in the horse’s joints. This means that it is not deemed to be a performance-boosting drug, but it still gives the horse an advantage. Since they don’t feel any pain while racing, they are able to race to their fullest capacity

This steroid is also used in the horseracing industry very often, but huge race events like Kentucky Derby have definitive rules about clearing the horse’s system from these drugs before entering the race.

According to the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium, betamethasone is a potent, long-acting, synthetic glucocorticoid. Also, it is generally used in equine veterinary medicine as a steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Is This The First Time Trainer Bob Baffert Used Steroids?

Actually, trainer Bob Baffert has quite a long history with administering those substances to his horses before races.

Back in the Kentucky Oaks in 2020, he was training Gamine and Charltan, who both tested positive for another substance disallowed: lidocaine.

Initially both horses were disqualified and Bob was suspended 15 days. However, in April the Arkansas Racing Comission gave back the titles to the horses and reduced the sentence for the trainer on only a fine of $10.000.

So, Baffert does have a history with performance-enhancing drugs This is the fifth drug violation in the past year for Baffert and he always claims that environmental contamination was the cause for the failed drug test result.

Are Steroids a Common Thing in Horseraces Nowadays?

It is crucial to point out the mandatory post-race testing varies from location to location. There is no database that keeps track of all horses that tested positive for the substance or performance-enhancing drugs.

With that said, there is a safety and integrity bill that was recently signed into law and it will into effect in July 2022.

The goal is to clarify all the doping rules and to implement consistent, transparent, and enforceable tests all across the world that are unified by one standard. Although some trainers try to dodge the rules, each horse racing event organization has very strict rules on steroids and they have mandatory tests after each race.

What’s Next for Medina Spirit?

Well, just as we mentioned, Baffert claims that he didn’t use betamethasone before the race and requested a second round of testing. Officials will be using a split sample, which is one of the best ways to verify the presence of the steroid.

Baffert’s Concert Tour continued despite the result of test, and Medina Spirit actually competed on the Preakness Stakes ending up in 3rd place.

Nonetheless, the horse was declared suspended from June’s Belmont Stakes, the next Triple Crown event in line. You can check the full list of 2021 Belmont Stakes horses here.

So, if Bob wants to clear his name and put Medina back on track he will have to make sure the blood sample comes out soon and it is untainted from any illegal drugs.