Funny thing about Medina Spirit. His most distinctive feature used to be his dark bay coat.
In a Thoroughbred world full of blazes and socks, the equine terms for noses and feet that are white, his look is somehow pure. A dark bay without markings. Well, almost.
Look closely at the top of Medina Spirit’s head. There is the tiniest of white spots. It is called a faint star.
Funny thing about Medina Spirit. His most distinctive feature now is that faint star. Because it might as well be Mother Nature’s asterisk.
The asterisk says he tested positive at the Kentucky Derby for an excessive trace of something that we are told was in an ointment he was given for a condition that discolored his rump. Take trainer Bob Baffert at his word, and it is like when Elaine Benes failed her drug test after eating a poppy-seed muffin. (“Hey, Boomer. Who’s Seinfeld?”)
Now look closely at the fine print in Medina Spirit’s story. While he may eventually be stripped of his 12-1 triumph in the Derby, he is as clean as a pharmaceutical whistle so far in the eyes of the Maryland Jockey Club. His first of three out-of-competition drug tests came back negative Thursday from a lab in Colorado.
That test was taken last week – before the Sunday bombshell that put betamethasone into our collective vocabulary. If two more screenings that were ordered this week come back negative from Colorado and a second lab in California, then Medina Spirit will be cleared to race Saturday and be the favorite in the Preakness.
A positive drug test like the one that exploded last weekend makes a horse or a human or any other competitive species guilty until a split sample proves him innocent. That is what real life dictates, because that split sample almost never provides a different outcome. It is why Medina Spirit’s triumph in the Derby feels temporary. Who knows how long temporary will be, though? While Maryland takes only a few days to get results from bloodwork, it feels like Kentucky is waiting for picograms in a bottle to wash ashore from the Ohio River.
It only follows then that a negative drug test makes that same species innocent until second and third tests taken with notice after the fact prove him guilty. That is what the Preakness feels like now for Medina Spirit. The big news came Thursday with the first clear test. Sloppy as team Baffert seems to be when it comes to minding its medication store, one would think any tube of Otomax left lying around was long ago trashed. Hey, Siri. What else in the barn has betamethasone? Get it out of here.
The next big surprise would come if someone from the MJC actually announced Friday at 3 p.m. EDT that, oops, Medina did it again. Ha. That ain’t happening. Instead, it should be a ho-hum fait accompli between races at Pimlico. He tested negative? Good. Let me get back to betting the Allaire du Pont Distaff.
Thursday’s white smoke from the cupola at Pimlico meant all that handicapping of the Preakness was not for naught. Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. Concert Tour and Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan favorite Beautiful Gift, also from the Baffert barn, also tested negative. They are good to go unless their last two tests come back dirty. And they won’t.
Presuming he gets out of the gate cleanly, Concert Tour (5-2 morning line) should set the pace. Mike Smith should be scrubbing out of post 10, looking to his left to see Medina Spirit (9-5), Midnight Bourbon (5-1) and France Go De Ina (20-1) trying to come fast. Or not.
If he gets an easy lead, and if there are no unexplained problems as there were when he finished third last month in the Arkansas Derby, Concert Tour could be in front from gate to wire. The Preakness would finally give Gary and Mary West that classic victory that has eluded them for all but the 22 minutes that they thought they won the 2019 Kentucky Derby with Maximum Security. Asterisks for $1,200, Bill Whitaker.
Now ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., Midnight Bourbon (5-1) might have been better than sixth in the Derby had he gotten out of the gate cleanly. He also might have done better if Smith, who was riding him two weeks ago, had tried to get him to his customary forward position. But Smith took back and tried to make a late run. Not used to doing that, the colt trained by Steve Asmussen still made up eight places in the last half-mile. Midnight Bourbon’s final quarter-mile was the second fastest in the race, clocked by Trakus Racing at 24.66 seconds. By comparison Medina Spirit dug his way home in 25.04, nearly two lengths slower.
Connections for Rombauer (12-1) took the free entry into the Preakness that came with winning a wintertime race on a synthetic track near San Francisco. That was a textbook, out-of-the-clouds victory in the El Camino Real Derby, and it was against a soft pace. Trained by Mike McCarthy, Rombauer was even more impressive closing from 11th to fifth and making up 6¾ lengths last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. If there is any kind of pace battle up front in the Preakness, this is the sort of horse than can pick up the pieces late. Getting California’s leading rider Flavien Prat will not hurt, either.
Barring any complications like rain, which is not in the forecast, or something more ordinary, like a late scratch, Concert Tour, Midnight Bourbon and Rombauer could be the winning combination – boxed – on exacta and trifecta tickets. Want a fourth for the superfecta? Feel free to toss Medina Spirit and maybe everyone else into the mix.
The cynic in me says if and when Medina Spirit does not win the Preakness, then that second test sample will suddenly materialize early next week in Louisville and remove his name from the roll of Kentucky Derby winners. It will be like going from 60 to zero with a thud, and it will make for a quiet week on Long Island for the Belmont Stakes, which someone said might be back to 1½ miles next month. Pardon my dripping sarcasm.
The cynic in me also says if Medina Spirit wins the Preakness, that second test sample in Kentucky will be lost in some sort of bureaucratic red tape, perhaps rolled into a ball near the concrete footings on that off-again, off-again hotel that is not being built behind the clubhouse turn at Churchill Downs. Then it will be a media circus in New York, where Baffert said he would show up. We’ll see.
Look closely at 2021. Where it says Mandaloun won the Kentucky Derby and Concert Tour won the Preakness, the name Medina Spirit vanished. If these were old records, they would be awash in Wite-Out, which we see contains titanium dioxide, solvent naphtha, petroleum, light aliphatic, resin, mineral spirits, colorants, fragrance and dispersant – but no betamethasone.
Funny thing about Medina Spirit. His name may fade into racing history as the answer to a trivia question about that year when we were starting to take off our masks. It was OK for us to get a couple shots but not for a horse to get a certain ointment.
Oh, that faint star on his head? Mother Nature’s asterisk? He will wear that the rest of his life.
Ron Flatter’s regularly scheduled racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It is posted more frequently during coverage of big events including post-race coverage scheduled for Saturday from the Preakness Stakes. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod with two episodes this week at VSiN.com/podcasts. One features bookmaking horseplayers Johnny Avello, Chris Andrews and Duane Colucci analyzing all 10 horses in the Preakness. The other from Baltimore includes trainer D. Wayne Lukas, exercise rider Humberto Gómez and Maryland Jockey Club TV host Naomi Tukker. Every episode of the RFRP is available via free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.