A class action alleges acclaimed trainer Bob Baffert has engaged in “multiple and repeated” acts of doping and entering horses into races—including the Kentucky Derby—in what amounts to a pattern of illegal racketeering activity and gambling.
A proposed class action alleges acclaimed trainer Bob Baffert has engaged in “multiple and repeated” acts of doping and entering horses into races—including the Kentucky Derby—in what amounts to a pattern of illegal racketeering activity and gambling.
The 55-page RICO lawsuit, filed by four who bet on this year’s second-place Kentucky Derby finisher, claims seven-time derby winner Baffert; Bob Baffert Racing Stables, Inc.; and Zedan Racing Stables, Inc. have engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity by repeatedly doping horses illegally and entering them into thoroughbred races in California and other states. The most recent example of this conduct, according to the complaint, came during this year’s Kentucky Derby on May 1 at Churchill Downs, in which Baffert’s Medina Spirit won $1,860,000 as part of what the plaintiffs alleged to be a “horse-doping scheme in thoroughbred racing.”
The suit charges that Baffert, whose horse may be disqualified after a drug test showed high levels of betamethasone, a corticosteroid, has committed at least two related incidents of “criminal profiteering” over a 10-year period, resulting from his “continued involvement in thoroughbred racing,” that “pose a threat of continuing criminal activity extending indefinitely into the future.” As of May 17, 2021, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Churchill Downsawaitthe results of a second drug test, which are expected to take several weeks, before a final decision can be made as to Medina Spirit’s disqualification from first place at this year's Kentucky Derby.
The suit relays the plaintiffs and proposed class members placed their bets based in part upon public information, some of which was provided by the defendants, and the understanding that doping is banned in thoroughbred racing. The plaintiffs allege the defendants’ illegal activity has injured them directly given the outcome of this year’s Kentucky Derby and what came after. According to the case, each plaintiff stood to win a hefty payout in the event their horse, Mandaloun, won the iconic race. From the complaint:
“On May 1, 2021, Plaintiffs placed their bets for the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs based upon their research and upon Defendants’ material misrepresentation that they were in compliance with the laws, regulations, and Racetrack Rules governing the Kentucky Derby.
Medina Spirit won the race, contrary to what Plaintiffs’ analysis and observations of the horse’s previous racing form and analysis of the race suggested would be the result. Consequently, the other horses on which Plaintiffs placed their bets finished second, third, fourth, and fifth, instead of first, second, third, and fourth.”
Following Medina Spirit’s victory, the horse was subjected to post-race blood testing and tested positive for betamethasone, a performance-enhancing substance, the lawsuit continues. Baffert was suspended indefinitely by Churchill Downs, yet the plaintiffs’ wagers will not be altered if the outcome of the race is revised, the case says:
“Further, assuming Medina Spirit is eventually disqualified by the Churchill Downs Stewards and placed last, the prize money for the race will be redistributed with the 2nd place finisher receiving the 1st place prize money, the 3rd place finisher receiving the 2nd place prize money, etc., [sic] However, the bettors of the race, including Plaintiffs, will not receive the payoffs they would have been entitled to, but for the illegal participation of Medina Spirit.”
According to the lawsuit, each defendant, upon information and belief, knew or should have known that betamethasone had been administered to Medina Spirit considering the horse was stabled at Sedan Racing and was under the entities’ control, and given Baffert himself admitted the positive test may have been caused by exposure to a dermatitis ointment.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants’ “multiple and repeated acts of doping horses” constitutes a pattern of racketeering activity. According to the complaint, the defendants’ alleged acts “are not isolated events” but related in their “similar purposes, participants, methods of commission and other distinguishing characteristics.” More from the complaint:
“For example, in January 2021, the California Horse Racing Board voted to let eventual 2018 Triple Crown winner and Baffert-trained horse, Justify, keep his Santa Anita Derby victory, despite the detection of scopolamine in postrace samples Justify. The positive tests were revealed in a New York Times story in September 2019.
On October 20, 2020, a Baffert-trained horse was disqualified from third to last in the Kentucky Oaks, which was held on September 4, 2020, after testing positive with twenty-seven (27) picograms of betamethasone. Baffert did not appeal and was fined $1,500.
On July 25, 2020, another Baffert-trained horse finished second in a race at Del Mar in California then tested positive after the race for the medication, dextromethorphan. Baffert was fined $2,500 for the violation on November 30, 2020.
In May 2020, two Baffert-trained horses tested positive for the painkiller lidocaine after victories at Oaklawn Park. Tests revealed 185 picograms in one horse, and 46 in the other. Arkansas stewards initially fined and suspended Baffert fifteen (15) days for the violation. His appeal was heard, and the suspension was lifted, with fines reduced to $5,000 per horse.
On August 3, 2019, a Baffert-trained horse that finished fourth in a race at Del Mar tested positive for phenylbutazone. Baffert was fined $1,500 for violation of the California Horse Racing Board rules. Baffert had been fined $5,000 just a week earlier for the same violation with another horse.”
Overall, the plaintiffs allege Baffert and the co-defendant entities fraudulently misrepresented that they entered into the Derby a horse that complied with race track rules. This misrepresentation, the case claims, was material in that pari-mutuel wagering, i.e. the placing of bets on events in which participants finish in a ranked order, “cannot function without fairness,” and administering a banned substance to a horse, the suit says, “is antithetical to the spirit of fair competition.” According to the complaint, the defendants “knew or believed that their representation was false” and intended that bettors such as the plaintiffs would rely on their claims to “induce” them to make wagers.
The lawsuit looks to represent all Kentucky Derby bettors who would have won their bets and winnings had Medina Spirit been properly prohibited from competing in the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 2021 or competed without the aid of an illegal drug.
Alleged by the plaintiffs are violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and the California Control of Profits of Organized Crime Act.
Get class action lawsuit news sent to your inbox – sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter here.