With Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit favored to win the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown Saturday at Pimlico, trainer Bob Baffert stands accused of fraud, racketeering and negligence in a pair of class-action lawsuits — one that seeks his removal from thoroughbred racing.
Bettors seeking compensation for wagers lost to Medina Spirit’s drug-tainted victory at Churchill Downs are pursuing separate complaints filed Thursday and Friday in California and Jefferson County courts.
The California suit says Baffert’s involvement in the sport poses “a threat of continuing criminal activity extending indefinitely into the future.” It asks that he and owner Amr Zedan be ordered to divest themselves “of any interest (direct or indirect) in any enterprise,” and that “reasonable restrictions” be imposed on the defendants’ future activities in thoroughbred racing.”
Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, called the California lawsuit “completely frivolous with zero legal merit.” Plaintiff Justin Wunderler admitted it was a “longshot.”
“We all think it’s a longshot,” Wunderler said. “But if we don’t (speak up) for the bettors, it’s just going to keep on going. Nothing will change in my opinion.”
Wunderler and fellow plaintiffs Michael Beychok, Michael Meegan and Keith Mauer say they were deprived of payoffs worth a minimum of $54,000 because Medina Spirit’s Derby victory was made official before the colt tested positive for betamethasone.
Anthony Mattera, the lead plaintiff in the Jefferson County case, says he and his partners were in line to collect at least $1 million in winnings were it not for Medina Spirit’s victory being declared official.
“As horseplayers, we’re used to being abused and mistreated,” Mattera said. “We’re always left holding the bag and there never seem to be any consequences for those who are in a position to prevent something like this from happening, but won’t. This lawsuit is about more than just the money. It’s way past time that trainers and racetracks get held to account for their actions and failures. My hope is that this lawsuit will change the way things are done and change behavior.”
Mattera’s suit alleges negligence against both Baffert and Churchill Downs, Inc., and holds the racetrack responsible for failing to detect and scratch ineligible horses prior to them competing. He seeks to enjoin operators from conducting races without a system to screen ineligible horses before a race and to create a fund to settle wagers involving horses that are eventually disqualified.
“At the very minimum, Bob Baffert was extremely careless with administering betamethasone to Medina Spirit, and Churchill Downs has absolutely no system in place to prevent ineligible horses from competing in its races,” said Mattera’s attorney, Will Nefzger. “They have it completely backwards and allowed this to happen. This lawsuit strikes at the heart of a couple huge problem in horse racing – continued and repeated medication violations by trainers and continually forcing horseplayers to bear the brunt of careless and reckless behavior.”
Churchill Downs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Though the California suit does not include the racetrack as a defendant, Wunderler said future actions may involve both tracks and racing commissions that have “allowed Baffert to push the line numerous times.”
At present, Baffert is suspended only at Churchill Downs. He has three horses entered at Pimlico on Saturday — including the two leading Preakness contenders — and another 3-year-old scheduled to run at Santa Anita.
“If the allegations are correct, the guy’s a recidivist,” said William Federman, attorney for the California plaintiffs. “He’s a repeat offender. He doesn’t deserve the privilege of continuing in this industry where license is required. . .If you’re a barber and you cut off three people’s ears, you think you deserve to continue being a barber?”
Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, email@example.com; Twitter: @TimSullivan714