A Stop Horseracing Article from All-Creatures.org

Baffert, racehorses and betamethasone

FROM Tuesday's Horse
September 2023

Dead horse’s medical records cast light on Baffert’s evolving relationship with betamethasone.

Spirit Medium horse
Spirit Medium...

Source: Paulick Report by Natalie Voss:

After the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert prohibited the use of the corticosteroid betamethasone for joint injections of horses in his barn.

Or did he?

The racing industry has heard Baffert run through his narrative of the days after he found out Medina Spirit had a positive test for betamethasone following the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Baffert initially reacted with shock to the news and held a press conference at his Churchill Downs barn to acknowledge the positive test and express his confusion and consternation about it. He later went on a mainstream media tour, suggesting there had been a mistake or some kind of foul play.

Then, a few days later, his team put out a statement attributing the positive to Otomax, a prescription topical that Baffert says his employees were using to treat a skin rash on Medina Spirit. Betamethasone is an ingredient in Otomax.

Baffert has been asked, while under oath, to walk through his state of mind in those early days several times between civil legal proceedings with two different racetrack ownership groups and his ongoing appeal of Medina Spirit’s disqualification by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. His story has always been the same — that he was disturbed that Gamine got a betamethasone positive in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks after receiving hock injections of the drug 18 days out from the race.

The regulation at that time was that the drug was prohibited up to the limit of laboratory detection, which was supposed to be 14 days pre-race, and Baffert said the Gamine positive was proof that even while following the rules, he couldn’t be safe. He has said he ordered all his veterinarians to stop using betamethasone for any kind of injections.

But medical records obtained by the Paulick Report for Baffert trainee Havnameltdown indicate that as of April 2023, his veterinary team was using the drug for joint injections.

Havnameltdown suffered a fatal injury to his left front fetlock during the running of this year’s Grade 3 Chick Lang Stakes on the undercard for the Preakness, which Baffert would go on to win with National Treasure.

On April 16, 2023, records from Equine Medical Center show that Havnameltdown received injections of Hyvisc and Celestone in his stifles, and injections of Hyvisc and Kenalog in his hocks, in addition to Banamine, torbugesic and dromosedan.

The hocks and stifles are joints in a horse’s hind limbs.

Hyvisc is a brand name for hyaluronic acid, which is a common additive to joint injections and is the same material that naturally occurs in joints to keep them lubricated. Celestone is the brand name for injectable betamethasone.

The administering veterinarian was Dr. Vincent Baker, who has long been Baffert’s primary veterinarian in California.

The administration was in compliance with regulations and duly reported to officials in California.

A little more than eight weeks earlier, on Feb. 3, 2023, Baffert gave testimony at a preliminary injunction hearing in his civil suit against Churchill Downs Inc. in Kentucky Western District Court. CDI excluded Baffert from the Kentucky Derby and its qualifiers for two years after Medina Spirit’s positive test due in part to the damage it claimed he had brought upon its brand from the positive and its aftermath.

“But after Gamine tested positive for betamethasone on Churchill Downs’ own track, as you’re approaching the most important race in the history – most important race in horse racing, you didn’t say to your doctor, ‘Whatever we’re putting on that horse, whatever we’re putting in the horse’s mouth, on its body, let’s make sure it’s not betamethasone.’ You didn’t say that, did you?” asked Orin Snyder, attorney for CDI.

“I did. Told all of my veterinarians to stay away from betamethasone and they – they followed the rules,” answered Baffert. “No intra-articular – they didn’t inject – betamethasone to inject any of the horses.”

Later in the testimony, Baffert reiterated the statement to his own lawyer.

When asking about the aftermath of Gamine’s positive, attorney Clark Brewster asked Baffert:

“And when you were informed of that, you didn’t even contest it. It was resolved and you paid a fine; am I right?”

“That’s right,” Baffert answered.

“And then did you have a statement to your vets and your staff after that – that rather startling first time ever in Kentucky – positive, did you say anything to them about betamethasone?”

“Yes. I said I didn’t want betamethasone in my barn,” answered Baffert.

“Ever?” asked Brewster.

“Ever,” said Baffert.

In August 2022, during a proceeding before a hearing officer as part of his appeal of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s disqualification of Medina Spirit, Baffert said much the same.

“I do not want the use of betamethasone in my barn, and so they were all aware of it. We didn’t — you know, do not inject these horses with betamethasone,” he said.

Read more at the Paulick Report

About the drug

Betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory steroid that, in humans, is used to treat a number of diseases, including some rheumatic disorders—those affecting the joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles—some skin diseases, allergies, Crohn’s disease and cancers, among others.

In horse racing, Betamethasone is an accepted and commonly used medication. Injection of the drug into joints can provide relief from discomfort for horses by decreasing inflammation, although some evidence exists to suggest that the substance can mask injuries that would otherwise prevent an animal from racing, placing it in danger of further damage, according to Kentucky Equine Research.

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