Building a position that a betamethasone positive test result discovered in Medina Spirit after he crossed the wire first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) was the result of an ointment and, subsequently, did not affect his athletic performance was the crux of testimony made Aug. 29 before hearing officer Clay Patrick in Frankfort , Ky.
The Monday hearing was the continuing of an appeal of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s disqualification by Medina Spirit’s owner Amr Zedan and trainer Bob Baffert that began Aug. 22. The owner and trainer’s legal team started the day by asking Patrick to make a partial ruling that there has been no evidence presented that the horse received an interarterial injection within 14 days of the Derby.
“I see us trying to disprove something that is the KHRC’s burden to prove,” said Baffert’s attorney Clark Brewster.
KHRC Jennifer Wolsing countered that the relevant state rules regarding medications not allowed on race day only identify betamethasone–not any specific variation of the substance–and is not restricted by administration.
“It does not matter scientifically how this compound gets into a horse’s body … the commission does not have to list every possible method of administration in its classification schedule.”
Sign up for BloodHorse Daily
Patrick denied the request, which launched the testimony from the day that focused largely on the results of testing done by Dr. George Maylin, who is the director of the New York Equine Drug Testing and Research Laboratory, a lab that under contract with the state of New York routinely tests racehorses. Maylin was directed by court order to look for compounds in a Medina Spirit urine sample that also found in the ointment Otomax, a product used on Medina Spirit to treat a skin infection and at least one source of the betamethasone found in sample taken after the Derby.
Maylin testified during the Aug. 29 session about the methodology he used to identify three substances not typically looked for in post race samples taken from racehorses. The court order asked him to look for betamethasone valerate (a variation of the corticosteroid used in topical treatments) , clotrimazole (an anti-fungal medication), and gentamicin (an antibiotic).
Maylin said he did not find any betamethasone acetate in the Medina Spirit sample, though he added there was not a “rigorous” effort to find it. Determining that effort was the small sample size provided, which restricted the number of tests that could be run , and that the sample had not been treated with a preservative that would have prevented the degradation of the acetate.
During cross examination of Maylin, Wolsing asked Maylin about previous testimony in which he said if Medina Spirit had tested positive for betamethasone valerate and clotrimazole in out-of-competition testing in New York he would not have been allowed to run in the Belmont Stakes ( G1).
Maylin said his laboratory only reports the results of testing to the New York Gaming Commission and then it is up to the Gaming Commission to decide whether a horse is disqualified.
“It’s above my pay grade,” he said.
Brewster immediately followed by introducing documentation that the use of ointments, like Otomax is allowed under New York’s rules.
Baffert’s defense team also solicited testimony from Tom Lomangino Jr., former director of the Maryland Racing Commission Laboratory and former president of the Association of Official Racing Chemists, who was critical of how the UC Davis Maddy Equine Laboratory conducted Medina Spirit’s split sample test. Industrial Laboratories did the initial testing and found 21 picograms per milliliter of blood and UC Davis’ testing found 25 pg/ml.
Lomangino cast doubt on the results by indicating the negative control sample during the test indicated some betamethasone contamination. Wolsing began to challenge Lomangino’s interpretation of the UC Davis results when she ran out of time due a schedule conflict with the witness. Lomangino’s testimony is scheduled to continue Aug. 30.
Dr. Steven Barker’s testimony made up a substantial part of Monday’s afternoon session. Barker worked for 30 years as a professor for Louisiana State University’s Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine and was director of the Equine Medication Surveillance Laboratory and state chemist to the Louisiana Racing Commission.
Barker talked extensively about Maylin’s work, which he found credible in its methodology and its conclusions. After reviewing Maylin’s results, Barker said: “The preponderance of the evidence is that this was a topical administration. You see the valerate and clotrimazole. The levels in the blood and urine and other facts all indicate this is a topical administration.”
The significance of the betamethasone positive coming from the ointment, according to Barker, is that the medication would have had no effect on the horse’s athletic performance. He based this conclusion on a German dissertation he read that studied the levels of betamethasone in horses over time when treated with an ointment containing betamethasone valerate.
“This study showed no pharmacological effect from topical administration of betamethasone valerate. If you administer it intramuscular, then you would see a significant increase. But this found levels mostly around 20 pg/ml and the level never exceeded 100 pg/ml. Such a small amount would not have affected the horse,” he said. “The KHRC says the method of administration does not matter but nothing is further from the truth. The hallmarks of pharmacology is deciding the amounts of the drug and it administration.”
Barker acknowledged during cross examination he is a paid expert for Baffert and Zedan’s legal team and has received around $17,000 for this case.
Also on cross examination, Wolsing asked Barker if it was his opinion that betamethasone was properly classified as a Class C medication violation under Kentucky rules. Baker said he was among the first to develop A, B, C classification at LSU for medications but that the system has changed over the years.
“It got into the hands of a lot of other people that are not veterinarians, are not pharmacologists, and are not chemists. I don’t understand right now what a Class C is and it makes a big difference how it is administered,” he said.
Wolsing noted that despite Barker’s position that the amount of betamethasone detected in Medina Spirit was not enough to have a pharmacological effect, when Baffert’s champion Gamine tested positive with 27 pg/ml of betamethasone following the 2020 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) no such defense was made.
“Mr. Baffert admitted to violating the KHRC’s medication regulations when Gamine tested positive for approximately 25 pg/ml of betamethasone. Correct?”
“Yes,” said Barker.
Testimony continues Tuesday with Baffert and Zedan expected to testify along with Dr. Vince Baker.