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Racetracks ratchet up pressure on beleaguered Baffert

Welcome to the latest installment of the dramatic series I like to call “As the Baffert Turns (On A Spit).”

In our last episode, you’ll recall, our protagonist, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, escaped a perilous summer of not being allowed to enter horses at Saratoga when a federal judge overturned his suspension by the New York Racing Association over Medina Springs’ positive drug test after the Kentucky Derby.

The plot — as plots are wont to do — has thickened, with Baffert once more tied to the figurative train tracks by his nemeses, Churchill Downs Inc. and the New York Racing Association.

NYRA on Friday informed the four-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner that it had scheduled a hearing on Sept. 27 to determine whether he has engaged in “conduct that is detrimental to the best interests of the sport of thoroughbred racing or potentially injurious to the health or safety of horses or riders.” If it determines he has, a new suspension or ban is expected.

The same day, Churchill Downs announced a new policy clearly written with him in mind: No horse trained by an individual suspended by the racetrack will be awarded points in the 2021-22 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” program.

Since that is the only way a horse can qualify for the 148th running of the Derby in May, the racetrack was essentially telling Baffert clients with talented 2-year-olds that they will not get a chance to run for the roses if they stand by their man.

While the racetrack operators play hardball, the Breeders’ Cup has not yet made a pronouncement on whether entries by Baffert will be accepted for that marquee two-day event Nov. 5-6 at Del Mar. Baffert will be eligible to race under current Breeders’ Cup rules unless its Board of Directors intervenes to block his participation.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to render a verdict on Medina Spirit’s positive test for the steroid betamethasone, a therapeutic drug that must clear a horse’s system by race day under the state’s racing rules.

The reason for the delay: Both parties to a lawsuit filed by Baffert are still awaiting the results of testing on the colt’s urine, a defense strategy aimed at showing the positive test was the result of accidental contamination from a topical cream rather than an attempt to cheat.

There’s more to unpack here, but for now, we leave Baffert in a perilous position. As they used to say on the radio, stay tuned.

Belmont stakes, Woodbine Mile top action

Belmont Park is back in action, with a trio of Saturday stakes topped by the $1 million Jockey Club Derby and the $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational.

In the former, Grade 1-winner Bolshoi Ballet and Group 2-victor Yibir head a field of eight sophomores in the 12-furlong turf test, a “Win and You’re In” race for the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The Oaks, run at 1⅜ miles over the inner turf course, has an international flavor, with Godolphin’s Creative Flair and Flaxman Stable’s Group 3 winner Harajuku crossing the pond to take on five American-based contenders.

Woodbine also has a nice array of stakes on its Saturday menu, capped by the $1 million Woodbine Mile, a “Win and You’re In” stepping stone to the Breeders’ Cup Mile .

The Mile looks like a solid betting race, with March to the Arch, 8-1 on the morning line, my top pick. He’ll have to conquer Set Piece (5-2) and Raging Bull (2-1) to get the job done.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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