J.N. Campbell Commentary: The Medina Spirit Problem ... continues ...

J.N. Campbell's commentary post-race, as Bob Baffert's Medina Spirit earns a trip to the Breeders' Cup Classic ...
J.N. Campbell's commentary post-race, as Bob Baffert's Medina Spirit earns a trip to the Breeders' Cup Classic ...

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Medina Spirit took on some of the best horses that the Southern California division had to offer … Idol, Tripoli, Express Train, etc. in the Awesome Again. A 3-yr-old opposing older horses for the first time in a Grade 1 race that offers an automatic passage to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6th is usually thought to be an exercise in futility. 

But Medina Spirit is not your “normal” 3-yr-old … the colt is the Kentucky Derby winner by-the-way, at least he is for now. Trained by Bob Baffert, a man who resides somewhere between Richard Nixon and Oprah, when it comes to respectability and likability, was elated after Medina Spirit and John Velazquez trotted towards the SA winner’s circle on Saturday afternoon. Maybe it was the cup running over with gratification in the face of so much adversity?

After all, the critics and his “former friends,” who Baffert spoke about with smugness recently in the LA Times (his 1st interview since May), have kept the pressure on. He may have scored victories in New York in actual legal landscapes, but he has fallen woefully short in the Court of Public Opinion. Which one, in the end, is more significant is up for debate, but what we do know is that the conversation about Baffert’s deeds has already had a major impact on the sport. Will it be cleaner or will trust in it start to rebuild anytime soon? 

Those questions are rather like AEs, maybe they will get in, maybe not. What is most interesting winding the clocks back from Medina Spirit winning in the Awesome Again, is that Baffert is still Baffert. He commands headlines … like General Patton in the Second World War, attribute a story to him, and he is good for another 100 miles. Maybe that is what the sport needs, any press is good press, whether it is positive or negative; a slapping incident or a positive drug test for an illegal substance versus breaking through a German line or winning a Grade 1, become where the lines are drawn. 

What we do know is that the Breeders’ Cup has a decision to make. They certainly were not helped much by Medina Spirit, who only knew one thing as he circumvented the track, get there first. Now, the waters are muddied even further. Both Gamine, another of the trainer’s signature stars who tested positive once, and the Derby Champ have punched their tickets to Del Mar. Can the BC Committee really keep them out? The situation is complicated. My sense is that they will not act. They do not have the grounds to do so. They aren’t Churchill Downs, who has only their own castle to defend. This is different. Without conclusive evidence coming out of the Kentucky Horseracing Commission’s fax machine, can the Breeders’ Cup really know what is true and what isn’t? 

Whether you want to give Baffert the benefit of the doubt or are willing to castigate him for continued wrongdoing, the fact of the matter is, he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Being relevant, winning ways, and his larger-than-life persona, continue to make him the center of this spot. Until that changes, nothing else will. Medina Spirit is going to the Breeders’ Cup … that’s the news that is fit to print for the time being.

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