The Baffert Conundrum: Q&A with Equine MediRecord’s Pierce Dargan

Pierce Dargan of Equine MediRecord talks with our J.N. Campbell about the Medina Spirit positive drug test, and all-things Bob Baffert. Have a look at this engaging Q&A below ... (Images courtesy of Equine MediRecord)
Pierce Dargan of Equine MediRecord talks with our J.N. Campbell about the Medina Spirit positive drug test, and all-things Bob Baffert. Have a look at this engaging Q&A below ... (Images courtesy of Equine MediRecord)

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As the Thoroughbred community waits and holds its collective breath over the past few weeks, I have spent many an hour in contemplative thought asking one, central question. How did HOF trainer, Bob Baffert, not know that Medina Spirit, his Kentucky Derby-winning colt, wouldn’t pass a random drug screening post-race? America’s most-celebrated trainer must have had the means to track it, hadn’t he? And a follow-up … His standards are not that low, are they?

I was looking for answers, so I rang up Pierce Dargan. He is an Irish-based fellow behind Equine MediRecord. For those of you that do not know, that is a massively successful horse-related medication app. It allows conditioners to track, trace, and conform to the hash of local, regional, and international standards related to the all-important rules and regulations that form the very backbone of integrity for the sport. Dargan has spent years as not only a savvy inventor, but he also hales from a longline of horsepeople in his family that dates back generations. He would be able to inform and explain.

We got together digitally for a chat about Baffert, the situation surrounding Medina Spirit, and his thoughts concerning what could have been done to alleviate the situation. Nothing like a fresh perspective!

Have a read …

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J.N. Campbell: Pierce, I would like to start by inquiring, what was your “first thought” when you heard the news that Kentucky Derby-winning Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone?

Pierce Dargan: Obviously, I was disappointed … as I knew this would be an opportunity for people who want to attack our sport to have a field day before waiting and allowing the facts to come to light. We all need to wait to see exactly what happened in this case, but I knew that won’t stop people from jumping to conclusions. I think it is important to say that betamethasone is a legal therapeutic drug, so this isn’t a clear-cut case in terms of what actually happened, but I would urge people to wait for the full test results to come to light.

J.N. Campbell: How does such a recognizable person like Bob Baffert and his supposed excellent team, not know that something like this is occurring in his own stable before the biggest races in the world? Speculate if you could ... based on your experience with high-profile trainers ... Where is the focal point that people should be homing in on?

Pierce Dargan: Look, I do not want to speculate too much about this, as I do not know Mr. Baffert or his team. So, I think it would be unfair and wrong of me to comment on his operation. All I will say, is that the general public is probably unaware of the massive work it takes to ensure a horse can race. To comply with all the animal welfare and safety rules which have been introduced, and to do all we can to protect our equine athletes, is what should, and always must, be of the paramount importance. This responsibility to do all we can for the horses comes with a lot of visits from veterinary professionals, chiropractors, and physiotherapists, to name but a few, of the professions who look after the horses. Each provides treatments, supplements, and medications, which could lead to horses having potential repercussions on when they are able to race. If you have hundreds of horses, this can be extremely complex to keep on top of, and that is my own personal experience from having a family horse racing operation in Ireland. I will reiterate, that we need to see what the facts are before drawing any conclusions. 

J.N. Campbell: Good advice, Pierce. Obviously, you have devoted yourself to the creation of a device that can assist trainers with the tracking of medications and when they are dispensed. Doesn’t this particular situation speak to the need for oversight and more organization? Please explain …

Pierce Dargan: As I said, there are many different people working and looking after these horses, and it leads to records being kept about their health to ensure they receive the best possible care and are able to race. Currently, around the world and including the U.S., this was traditionally done on paper that would be kept in vet books, and in individual diaries maintained by the trainer and their assistants. However, this format of recording can lead to problems. Records can become lost, damaged, or illegible. It can be extremely time-consuming when conditioners check these records, as in many cases, health records from all the horses under their care are all mixed together. That is why we created our digital system where a full horse health record can be kept with each animal having its own individual profile. We don’t charge for the number of users, so trainers can invite various people who look after the horse to contribute to the system, thus ensuring a complete health record is logged. The trainer can also see very clearly if there is an ongoing treatment for a horse, as a “red cross” is displayed next to its name. This designation may prevent the horse from racing in that jurisdiction. We have thousands of users and tens of thousands of horses, and since our launch in 2018, I am happy to say that we have over 1,000 inspections completed of the records by animal welfare and anti-doping regulations. That equates to a 100% compliance rate for our trainers and their barns.

J.N. Campbell: In your opinion, how should the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission proceed of the split sample comes back positive? What are the ramifications in your mind?

Pierce Dargan: I honestly can’t comment on an ongoing investigation where there are so many variables that could occur. I think everyone needs to be patient and see what transpires.

J.N. Campbell: Understood … that’s sensible. As some have suggested, would you agree, that in order for a sport like Thoroughbred racing to not only survive but prosper, that it sometimes needs to hit rock bottom, so to speak?

Pierce Dargan: I think at times it takes shocks to spark action, but I don't want to think that we need to hit rock bottom in order for positive changes to occur. There is, and was, a lot of great work being done in American racing before this incident. Whether we as an industry can turn a negative into positive action waits to be seen but being an optimist, I would think and certainly hope so.

J.N. Campbell: You were at the Breeders’ Cup last year, and they have sanctioned Equine MediRecord as the one to use ... it seems like there is such a disparity in North American racing between what is progressive and what is outmoded ... why is that?

Pierce Dargan: I wouldn’t say that about American racing. I would say that people who I know and have worked with from around the world, whether in the U.S., Ireland, France, UAE, or Japan, they deeply care about tradition. They understand the great history that we have the privilege of being able to be a part of with our sport. I think every jurisdiction we have operated in with our system has wanted to do their checks and tests properly. Rightly so … this is of critical importance, and they wanted to make sure we could deliver. I think if anything, American racing has been one of the most fast-moving jurisdictions we have operated in. That is reflected in the support we have received from the likes of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, Thoroughbred Owners of California, and the Breeders’ Cup in a relatively short time frame. I know for myself, that I have a certain way of conducting myself, and changing those behaviors takes time and trust. Ensuring that we are doing all we can to help with the challenges that are being presented to all of us who are involved in racing, and coming up with viable solutions to help solve them, are what we will pursue.

J.N. Campbell: Thanks for joining me today Pierce. Last question, what would you tell Bob Baffert right now, if you could about Equine MediRecord and your experience?

Pierce Dargan: He is in my thoughts and prayers as I can only imagine what this past month has been like for him regardless of the outcome. Let’s face it, social media amplifies the pressure on people, and the online attacks he has endured, I would never want any person to go through. I guess in terms of my experience with Equine MediRecord, I know our system doesn’t fit into the work flows of every barn straight away, as trainers can have very different routines and ways of working which may not suit how the system works. However, when we are given the time, and we are able to offer consultations on how to improve, ready endorsement follows by all our users, whether it is organizations or individual trainers. I would just say that we want to do all we can, that’s the mission … and if there is a way we can help, which I would believe there would be, that is our commitment, and have been doing for the past number of years and into the future.

J.N. Campbell: Interesting perspectives and great advice, Pierce. Appreciate your time on these matters.

Pierce Dargan: Thanks for the chat!

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