LOUISVILLE, Ky. — If Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby winner who failed a postrace drug test, is stripped of his crown, second-place finisher Mandaloun and his owners will be awarded the title and the sizable Derby purse that comes with it.

What You Need To Know

  • Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a post race drug test

  • If a new test on a split sample confirms the results, the horse that finished second, Mandaloun, will be crowned the winner

  • People who bet on Mandaloun, however, will not receive any winnings

  • Bettors say that’s unfair and they want to see changes

The bettors who laid millions on the line for the 147th Kentucky Derby will be less fortunate though. 

“We’re cheated,” said Michael Beychok, a handicapper and bettor in Louisiana. “There is no normal recourse for making us whole and that's a flaw in the system,” he said.

According to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, all bets are paid out once stewards declare the results “official.” Any subsequent change in the results, or the awarding of the purse, doesn’t change anything for people like Beychok, who bet on Mandaloun, and stood to win big.

“I had a superfecta that would have cashed if Mandaloun had nosed in front of Medina Spirit,” he said. “That's tens of thousands of dollars.”

The loss stings, but Beychok said it’s not his only concern. On Sunday, he began soliciting tickets from others who put money on Mandaloun and is considering a class action lawsuit against Churchill Downs in an attempt to stick up for bettors, who he said are “ignored as part of the ecosystem of horse racing.” Churchill Downs did not respond to a request for a comment.

The horse racing industry has a “responsibility to offer the public a fair game that does not involve cheating,” Beychok said. “That is not what we're getting currently at race tracks and that is not what we got on May 1.”

The drug that triggered the controversy at Churchill Downs is called betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory that is used to treat joint pain in horses. Though allowed in some states, Kentucky bars any presence of the drug on race day. Medina Spirit’s post race blood sample showed 21 picograms of betamethasone per milliliter.

Bob Baffert has had several of his horses fail drug tests in recent months. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

At a press conference Sunday, trainer Bob Baffert said the horse has never been treated with betamethasone. On Tuesday, he amended that statement, saying that the horse has a skin issue that was treated with an ointment that contains the drug.

This isn’t the first time a Baffert horse has run into trouble with betamethasone. Last year, the Baffert-trained Gamine finished third in the Kentucky Oaks and was later disqualified after testing positive for the drug. In the past 13 months alone, five horses from Baffert’s barn have failed drug tests. 

The Hall of Fame trainer’s behavior is a “continued black eye” for the sport, said Al Ford, an experienced bettor and partial horse owner in Florida. 

“As long as he's allowed to continue racing, it's not a comfortable place for new bettors or even existing bettors to want to participate in these pari-mutuel pools,” Ford said. 

A statement Sunday from Churchill Downs made it clear that the issue with Medina Spirit is about more than one horse and one race. “Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate,” the statement said. “Churchill Downs will not tolerate it.”

The integrity of the sport is very important to bettors, like Beychok, who said he's losing confidence that he's getting a fair shake when making wagers. The more people who feel the way he does, the more trouble the sport is in. 

“We're getting to a point where if the industry can't convince the public that we are offering a fair gamble, then we are doomed,” he said.

Racing world insiders have called for major reforms to rebuild confidence in the sport. Some will arrive in July of 2022 when the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, signed into law last December, takes effect. The law created the race world’s first national oversight body, consolidating drug testing and track safety work and instituting a consistent set of rules. 

If the Medina Spirit episode accelerates those reforms, that would count as a small upside to an otherwise dark moment for the sport, said Aaron Halterman, one half the handicapping team behind RacingDudes.com. “Good can come from this, if it's the catalyst for change within the industry and leads to harsher penalties and more efficient testing,” he said. 

As for Baffert, Halterman said if the split blood sample from Medina Spirit confirms the positive betamethose test, the trainer should suffer consequences. “I would like to see a lengthy suspension of at least 6 months if that happens,” he said.