A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Billy Reed: The horses are running at Keeneland, which is good, but they’ll run without Baffert stable

When the horses are running at Keeneland, the world is a better place. I can’t prove that, of course, but I believe it as fervently as I believe The Daily Racing Form has information on the winners of every race. The trick is picking them out.

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.

Knowing I will get an argument from those who love Del Mar, hard by the Pacific Ocean near San Diego, I think Keeneland is the prettiest track in the nation. It also stands for elegance, tradition, and that indefinable quality known as class, all of which the world needs now as never before.

The track’s fall meet began Friday with the usual assemblage of the best the sport has to offer in all categories — horses, jockeys, trainers and owners. Only one thing was missing — a stable trained by Bob Baffert, the sport’s most successful trainer and recognizable personality, only a year after he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic there with Authentic.

The reason does not reflect well on the sport.

On the first Saturday in May, Baffert seemed to win his seventh Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit. However, the victory was nullified when a minuscule trace of the steroid betamethasone was detected in a postface drug test. Even Baffert’s detractors admit the amount detected was too small to have any effect on the horse’s performance.

Baffert denied administering the drug and suggested “counter-culture” or other sinister forces might be at work. That idea shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Although racing has worked hard to make its barn areas secure, getting into any barn anywhere still would be child’s play for anyone determined to do so.

Nevertheless, the Kentucky State Racing Commission ruled that runner-up Essential Quality would be the official Derby winner and that Baffert would be barred from racing in Kentucky for two years. That moved Medina Spirit’s owner, Amr Sedan, to sue the Racing Commission. He also sued the New York Racing Association when it tried to piggyback on the ruling in Kentucky.

And there the matter remains. The horses are running at Keeneland and the world is hardly a better place for Bob Baffert, his clients, and supporters.

As I have previously said, I hope Baffert beats this rap, for the sake of his reputation and the sport’s integrity. It’s a personal thing. He always has been kind, accessible, and gracious with me. I’m not about to throw him under the bus so quickly and easily.

Billy Reed with Bob Baffert — happier times. (File photo)

But I am in the minority. It is unseemly how many in the sport have rushed to judgment. I’m sure a lot of jealously is involved. When you’ve been at the top of the game as long as Baffert, you are bound to make enemies.

Without Baffert, It won’t be the same at Keeneland during the current meet. He has won just about every fall stakes race the track offers. And right now he has a promising 2-yea-old colt, Corniche, who might be next year’s Derby favorite in normal times. He would have been a candidate for yesterday’s Breeders Futurity at Keeneland.

Since the Derby, Baffert has been pursued by a Lynch mob which may eventually string him up. He has tried to go about his business as normal which is impossible in a sport that’s seemingly determined to forget all the good he has done. Please understand, I am not suggesting Baffert receive any special favors. But I would like to see him get the benefit of the doubt, which racing officials won’t give him.

Even without Baffert, I’m sure Keeneland will have its usual successful fall meet. The myriad of horse lovers around Lexington wouldn’t let it be any other way. Still, there is a stain to this meeting. You can seat as clearly as you can the gravy some slob has left on his sports jacket.

After all, fairness is another lovely quality that Keeneland brings to the racing world.

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  1. Pamela DRgan says:

    I believe Buffett should be stripped of his trainers license and not allowed to race thoroughbreds on any track. It would be different if this years Derby was his first infraction but it’s not. There is a pattern of his horses not testing clean. Because of who he is he has gotten away with it. Thoroughbred racing has gotten a bad reputation now because of this. Past time to hold him accountable. Ever consider he is the best trainer because he manages to use illegal drugs on his horses?

    Yes I am a horse person who understands the benefit of giving a horse a bit of medicated help but against it in competition.

  2. CW Moss says:

    Thank you, Billy, a man of integeity!

  3. Roger Harn says:

    Baffert is not banned from running at Keeneland and Essential Quality was not the Kentucky Derby runner-up or now declared the winner.

  4. Einar D Reitz says:

    Billy is clueless on everything…Essential Quality wasn’t the Derby runner up, and Baffert has 4 other failed drug test in a 12 month period.
    Baffert needs to be held accountable for what has become a pattern of him disregarding and breaking the rules.

  5. GButtrey says:

    Thank you for this perspective!

  6. jim benvenuti says:

    Baffert apologist Reed is entitled to his own opinions. But he is not entitled to his own facts about who has been declared the Kentucky Derby winner or that the KHRC has even made a ruling. It is stunning that a Kentucky newspaper would allow such incorrect information to be on its site.

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