Updated Slightly Since Email:
I thought I'd share my thoughts on the news coming out regarding KY Derby winner Medina Spirit testing positive for betamethasone in the Derby.
First - here is an article with some info if you'd like some more details.
Another article with some more info about Bethamethasone:
So - quick as I can background on my knowledge of these types of situations. I was honored to serve on the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission for six years, three of which I served as Chair. The OHRC is the governing body for the state's racing and breeding industry, including things such as setting the Medication Rules for Racing, including threshold limits etc for allowed medications. There are many medications which are on the list of allowed "therapeutic medications". This means there are set limits in which the drug is allowed to be in horses system. If a drug does not have a threshold set - it is a banned substance - period.
Betamethasone is a corticosteroid anti-inflammatory. It is relatively common to use it, or a substitute to treat horses, just as you treat humans who have inflamed joints, muscles, etc. All medications, as they are used to treat the horses, have commonly known "withdrawal times" that the vets will advise the trainers on when discussing treatment. For example if you give any kind of "deadening" shot to an area - perhaps to test for an injury - that horse can't run for 14 days or will test positive/fail the drug test. For Betamethasone - the advised withdrawal time is 7 days - Update per Blood Horse article that the reccomended withdrawal time was changed to 14 days in last couple of years (meaning to administer at least 7 days prior to race/test) - So what happened?
Well, 1 - Horses, just like humans, have different metabolisms and drugs react differently in them. Thus, for any substance, trainers usually aim on the cautious side - i.e. if 7 days is the number - lets do 10 days. My guess - the horse had the substance at 7 days previously and didn't test positive, so Baffert figured he was good. (see note about withdrawal changes above)
2 - The withdrawal times are assumed the drug is administered Intra-Articularly. It's possible the vet administered the drug directly into the muscle or joint, which caused a longer withdrawal time.
So, some of you may be saying what's the big deal? And, to a large degree I agree with you. The testing has gotten so sophisticated and technologically advanced that these drugs can be detected at an unreal level. Like in this case, the horse tested positive with a level of picograms. At a presentation at a national conference I attended while on the commission, we learned that 1 picogram is equal to one second in a 50 yo person's life. It is that minute. (I'm sure some of our medical field folks can explain this better than I) So - no, this drug being in this system had ZERO impact on the horse's performance. ZERO While I was on the commission, we actually made the "unofficial '' directive to our drug testing lab to not notify us of positives less than 100 picograms of any therapeutic substance, or possible contamination. We made this choice as it had no impact on performance which we felt was the true crux of our directive from the Governor regarding our job. Unfortunately, in my opinion, some states and regulators go "by the book" in an effort to appear out in front, etc. I'm proud to say in Oklahoma when I was on the Commission, if you gave a horse a performance enhancing drug, or a drug that didn't care for the welfare of the horse - we would get you removed from our sport and fine you as much as we could. - I have the death threats and 24 hour security for a while to show for it - ha. But that is a much different error, or intention, that a therapeutic administration for too much of a drug, etc.
However , Bob Baffert is the face of our sport. And he has had a number of high profile positives for "pushing the envelope" in the last few years. He had a very high profile one thrown out in Arkansas related to a race last year on a technicality because of chain of custody issues with the sample - a good ruling in my opinion, as the state has the legal duty to do everything right. Several years ago Baffert had about 10 horses die in California after training or races for unknown reasons over the course of a couple months. After investigation most of the horses tested positive for a thyroid medication that was so old that it wasn't even tested for anymore - needless to say they brought the testing for it back, horses haven't died and Baffert went through a few down years before coming back
Like many other things, where there's smoke there is fire. Baffert isn't the best trainer in the world by a mile as his success would suggest. He is a very good trainer, and a true horseman, which many these days aren't. He also is a great marketer and got some of the better clients and money in the game early, which has allowed him to get where he is. When trainers have down years or up years, did they suddenly forget or learn how to train? No - their talent level of athletes changed and their results changed with it. The trainers whose percentage suddenly jumps with no new clients or horses after years of the same - those are the ones doing dirty - which we can get into another time.
So, to summarize - this violation isn't a major deal, but Baffert's pattern of pushing the limits, and more in the past make it a problem - plus the most high profile race in the world. Also - the whole "why me?" and "I don't know anything about the drug" act at a press conference this morning is laughable.
Lastly - I'm so glad that my partners and clients want to know the answers to this, and are inquiring. I love the engagement and hope for more in the future, particularly as we start racing and expanding! Thanks and feel free to reach out again, and I'm sorry for the very long winded answer.