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Court Denies Effort to Stop NYRA Hearing vs. Baffert

An administrative hearing on charges brought against Baffert by NYRA begins Jan. 24.

Trainer Bob Baffert

Trainer Bob Baffert

Anne M. Eberhardt

A final effort by trainer Bob Baffert's legal team to stave off an impending administrative hearing that could result in his being barred from tracks operated by the New York Racing Association was denied Jan. 21 in a federal lawsuit filed by the trainer last year.

The order, entered in U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York by Judge Carol Bagley Amon, dismissed in its entirety an amended complaint filed on Baffert's behalf against NYRA last fall, paving the way for Jan. 24 to be the commencement date of an administrative hearing on charges brought against Hall of Fame trainer by NYRA. The hearing could take numerous days.

On Jan. 19, O. Peter Sherwood, a former New York Supreme Court Justice recruited to be a hearing officer in the state administrative action, denied Baffert's request that he step down from hearing the case. He also denied a motion to dismiss the case completely and ordered that the hearing begin as scheduled. Amon's ruling Friday will lead to the same result.

In May 2021 NYRA issued a "temporary suspension" of the trainer following the disclosure that Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner Medina Spirit subsequently tested positive for betamethasone, a substance prohibited on race day in Kentucky. However, Baffert was not afforded a hearing or prior notice of the action by NYRA. Baffert filed suit, and Amon entered a temporary injunction in July prohibiting the suspension, holding that it amounted to state action against Baffert unsupported by due process of law.

Kentucky stewards have yet to hold a hearing related to the Derby.

In September, NYRA countered by serving Baffert with a "statement of charges" alleging conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing, conduct detrimental to the health and safety of horses and jockeys, and conduct detrimental to NYRA's business operations. The allegations came with the warning that NYRA would seek to exclude Baffert from NYRA-operated tracks. Baffert was notified that a set of procedures had been adopted to afford him a hearing where NYRA would seek to prove the charges and at which Baffert could confront his accusers.

Baffert's amended complaint in federal court followed. It asked, among other things, that the court enjoin NYRA from going forward with the administrative hearing.

In Friday's ruling, Amon converted the preliminary injunction she previously granted as to the May 2021 "temporary suspension" to a permanent injunction and ruled that this resolved all remaining issues raised by Baffert's initial complaint. At the same time, she held that the federal court system had no right to interfere in the hearing scheduled to commence Monday and dismissed the amended complaint.

NYRA issued a statement welcoming the ruling, with vice president of communications Pat McKenna writing that NYRA "is gratified by Judge Amon's decision to dismiss Mr. Baffert's lawsuit in its entirety. As we have said throughout this process, NYRA's focus in this matter is protecting the integrity of the sport of Thoroughbred racing in New York. In furtherance of that goal, the NYRA administrative hearing will begin on Monday morning."

Baffert attorney W. Craig Robertson III indicated Baffert is prepared to return to federal court if need be.

"The primary purpose of the federal court action was to obtain an injunction prohibiting NYRA was suspending Mr. Baffert without due process of law. We were successful in that regard and Judge Amon issued such an injunction—which she has now made permanent," Robertson wrote in an email. "As it pertains to our claims related to the renewed efforts by NYRA to suspend Mr. Baffert, Judge Amon has instructed us that we need to go through that process to see if NYRA actually affords the due process it is legally obligated to provide. While we are skeptical NYRA will do as required given its past conduct, we will go through the hearing as instructed by the judge. Should NYRA not act fairly and in accordance with the law, we will have the right—and we will be prepared—to once again return to court to seek justice."