Whether he holds his Kentucky Derby victory temporarily or forever, Medina Spirit was the center of attention when he arrived Monday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course ahead of his presumed run in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.
After a 600-mile van ride that began before dawn from Churchill Downs, Medina Spirit, stablemate Concert Tour and three other horses from the barn of embattled trainer Bob Baffert arrived at about 2:30 p.m. EDT, preceded in a separate car by assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes.
“It seemed simple,” said Barnes, who got to Baltimore about two hours ahead of schedule. “Actually, we’re here even earlier than when we fly sometimes. Sometimes they have two flights, and if you’re on the second flight, they’ve got to come here and go back. Other than having to drive 600 miles, it went very smooth.”
Flying was not an option after Tex Sutton Equine Air Transportation was at least temporarily grounded by the expiration of a vendor contract.
That complication paled by comparison to Sunday’s news of a positive test for the anti-inflammatory medication betamethasone, a drug that Baffert and his team denied using on Medina Spirit. If a second sample comes back with another positive result, Medina Spirit would lose his Derby triumph. That test is not expected to be concluded this week.
“I’m just here ready for the next race,” Barnes said.
Facing the specter of a fifth drug investigation Baffert saying he will not come to Baltimore to see if Medina Spirit or Concert Tour will deliver his record-breaking eighth Preakness victory, Barnes is like the interim head coach who suddenly gets thrust in front of the media.
“I can’t be thinking about that,” he said. “I’ve got to be thinking about what’s ahead of me.”
The Stronach Group and the Maryland Jockey Club still had not ruled by late Monday afternoon on the question of whether it would use the drug positive in Kentucky to suspend Baffert, as Churchill Downs did, or try to keep Medina Spirit from racing in the Preakness. Either move could trigger legal action by Baffert.
If Monday’s draw for Friday’s races was any indication, TSG and the MJC may let Baffert’s horses race under his name. That is because Grade 3-winning filly Beautiful Gift was listed in the draw for the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) with Baffert as the trainer of record.
In addition to Medina Spirit and Concert Tour, the Baffert barn will be represented Saturday by Following See in the Chick Lang (G3) and Hozier in the Sir Barton.
Barnes said he will not change his routine because Baffert is absent. So don’t expect to see him out for a night around the Inner Harbor with this week’s jockeys.
“I don’t need to go out and party,” he said. “Strategy? That will be Bob’s department. He’ll call the jockeys and tell them what we’re doing. My job is exactly the same. It doesn’t change at all. I’ve just got to go out there and win. For the team.”
Two traditions that usually go with the arrival of the Derby winner were not followed this year. Rather than using the stall on the east end of the stakes barn, Barnes put Medina Spirit closer to the middle. There was also no police escort, since the horse was vanned in rather than transferred from a flight.