Judge nullifies horse trainer Bob Baffert’s NY suspension
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York federal judge on Wednesday nullified the suspension of horse trainer Bob Baffert, finding that the New York Racing Association acted unconstitutionally by failing to let him adequately respond to claims made against him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test.
In her written ruling, Brooklyn Judge Carol Bagley Amon said a prompt post-suspension hearing where Baffert could refute the claims was required to meet constitutional muster.
But she said the racing association "had held no hearing — let alone a prompt one."
Attorney W. Craig Robertson III, who represented Baffert at a Monday hearing before Amon, said the ruling confirms that "following the Kentucky Derby, there was an improper rush to judgment and Mr. Baffert has been treated unfairly."
He called Amon’s ruling "one step, in one venue, toward righting those wrongs," and said he hoped it would lead to cooperation between the parties rather than division.
"Bob Baffert and NYRA have had a good relationship in the past. My hope is that they can get to that point again for the overall good of horse racing," he said.
Dave O’Rourke, president of the NYRA, said in a statement the association is reviewing the court’s decision to determine its "legal options and next steps."
O’Rourke said the association suspended Baffert to "protect the integrity of thoroughbred racing."
Amon said she concluded that Baffert had established a likelihood he will prove the suspension violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
She said he also made a "strong showing" that there would be irreparable harm if the suspension was not overturned.
Amon noted that lawyers for the New York Racing Association had argued at a hearing Monday in Brooklyn that the public depends on it to ensure races are conducted in a fair and honest manner and to protect the integrity of the sport.
"That may be true, but the public has no interest in having the ‘integrity of the sport’ enforced by unconstitutional means," she wrote.
On Monday, Henry Greenberg, arguing for the racing association, said the organization acted quickly because the Belmont Stakes, the third prong of horse racing’s Triple Crown, was fast approaching.
The NYRA operates Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course.
In Baffert’s lawsuit last month seeking to get the suspension lifted, the Hall of Famer contended he was suspended without "any prior notice" and was not told the duration or terms of the suspension or any New York state law or regulation he might have violated.
The suspension would have eliminated Baffert’s ability to enter horses at Saratoga, which opens Thursday.
"The 2021 Saratoga summer meet is a one-time opportunity. And given that many of the races are limited to horses of a certain age, an inability to compete in those races now means those horses will never have the chance," the judge wrote.
"Baffert will face substantial damage to his income, client base, and reputation if he cannot enter horses at NYRA races for the indefinite future. He has already lost one prominent client and stands to lose others, and has been deprived of the ability to compete at Belmont," she said.
NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke released the following statement:
"On May 17, 2021, at a time of crisis for the sport, the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) took emergency action to temporarily suspend Bob Baffert from racing or training at Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course. This measure was taken to protect the integrity of thoroughbred racing. NYRA will continue to honor that commitment so that fans, the betting public and racing participants can be confident in a level playing field.
"NYRA is reviewing the court’s decision today to determine our legal options and next steps. What is clear, however, is that Mr. Baffert’s actions and behavior can either elevate or damage the sport. We expect Mr. Baffert to exert appropriate controls over his operation.
"Importantly, the court upheld NYRA’s authority to exclude individuals from its racetracks whose conduct is contrary to the best interests of thoroughbred racing. The court also rejected Baffert’s argument that NYRA had no legal authority to take the action that it did."