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Billy Reed: Medina Spirit runs third in Preakness, behind winner Rombauer and Midnight Bourbon

Medina Spirit, the star-crossed winner in the Kentucky Derby, didn’t win yesterday’s Preakness in Baltimore, finishing third to the late-charging Rombauer and runner-up Midnight Bourbon.

But here’s the thing: He didn’t disgrace himself, either. As in the Derby, he led every step of the Preakness. Until the top of the stretch, that is. Then the gritty little colt finally gave way to Midnight Bourbon.

At least he and jockey John Velasquez showed up for the second jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown. That’s more than can be said for trainer Bob Baffert, who explained his absence by saying he didn’t want to take any attention away from the colt.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon. Billy covered his 53rd Kentucky Derby for the NKyTribune.

More likely, he didn’t want to get booed by the COVID-restricted crowd of 10,000. He’s the guy held responsible for the fact that a trace of the illegal substance betamethasone was detected in the colt’s post-race urinalysis.

The fact that it was Baffert’s fifth positive in the last year or so has soured many in racing who worshipped him for years. He denied doing anything willfully wrong, but admitted that betamethasone is an ingredient in the salve he used, supposedly on the advice of veterinarians, to treat a skin rash on Medina’s hindquarters.

Many experts believe the amount detected was so minuscule that it couldn’t have enhanced the colt’s run in the Derby. But the rules of racing don’t care what anybody thinks. If the medication is detected in any amount, the horse automatically is disqualified.

Period. End of story.

Pimlico Race Course, home of Preakness, was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If it denied the colt’s entry in the Preakness based on what happened in Louisville, it could face a lawsuit for denying Baffert due process.

But if it let him run, it would be the dominant story leading up to the race and nobody wanted that. Plus, what about the chances that he might win and turn up positive again?

In the end, Pimlico officials held their noses and let the colt enter the Preakness. But they also tested Medina Spirit and Baffert’s other entry, Concert Tour, three times in the days leading up to the race.

When the 10-horse field broke from the starting gate late yesterday afternoon, Medina Spirit went straight to the lead, as he had at Churchill Downs, and stayed there until the field came spinning out of the turn for home.

Finally, reluctantly, Medina Spirit gave way to Midnight Bourbon, whom the betting public sent off as the co-favorite with Medina. For a few moments, it looked as he was going to win after finishing third in the Derby.

But then here came..who was that dark bay horse flying down the middle of the stretch?

It was Rombauer, who earned his Preakness trip by winning the El Camino Real Derby in California. In his last start, he was third in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

Yesterday, however, he was easily the best. Under jockey Flavien Plat, the 11-to-1 shot gobbled up Midnight Bourbon and drew off for an easy 3 ½ length victory.

And so a whole new cast of characters was introduced to the racing world.

Until now, jockey Plat has been best known for winning the 2019 Kentucky Derby aboard Country House only after the victorious Maximum Security was disqualified for impeding at least three horses in the stretch.

Trainer Mike McCarthy, a longtime assistant to the esteemed Todd Pletcher, won his first Preakness before his mentor. In fact, the Preakness was the first Triple Crown race in which he saddled a horse.

Owners and breeders John and Diane Fradkin run a two-mare breeding operation. They were planning on selling Rombauer at auction, but decided to keep him because of Covid-related problems with various equine sales.

Rombauer definitely looked like a horse who could get the 1 ½ miles in the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel in the Triple Crown. No plans were announced for Midnight Bourbon, but Baffert said Medina Spirit will skip the Belmont.

The fate of Baffert and his colt apparently will be determined by the results of tests and the untested half of Medina Spirit’s urinalysis. If it’s positive, Baffert is cooked. If it’s not, which is highly unlikely, Medina Spirit will be declared the winner of the Derby.

Where Baffert will next show his face publicly remains to be seen. He realizes how far he has fallen. The question is, what will he do about it?

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