Horse Racing

In the Baffert Appeal, an expert weighs in on Betamethasone

On the third day of the disqualification appeal hearing Medina Spirit from the 2021 Kentucky Derby victory presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), an expert witness for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission testified about the effects, potential effects, and unknown effects of low corticosteroid levels for horses, but without going into the specifics of the case.

That expert witness, Heather Knych of the Ken L. Maddy Laboratory of Equatorial Analytical Chemistry at the University of California-Davis, corroborated on Aug. 24 by Zoom video on betamethasone, corticosteroids, and several related studies. other authority. Medina Spirit was dropped from the Derby win after post-race checks found betamethasone, a corticosteroid, in his system.

Knych was the only witness to testify publicly on Wednesday before police hearing officer Clay Patrick in Frankfort, because after her testimony ended at 1 p.m. ET, and a break for lunch, the part the rest of the day saw the hearing participants meet behind closed doors under a protection order regarding proprietary information.

Testifying on behalf of the KHRC, Knych said betamethasone can be used in a variety of ways. Speaking to KHRC general counsel Jennifer Wolsing, Knych said the effects of betamethasone were independent of the route of administration.

“No, I don’t think it matters,” Knych said. “I don’t think the route of use matters, at least as far as the recommendations of the (Association of Drugs & Trials Racing) are concerned.”

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Regarding that topic, Knych said the RMTC, the industry group that shapes such rules, does not change the classification of betamethasone based on the method of use. Knych, who serves on the RMTC’s Scientific Advisory Committee, says it’s a Class C substance that can’t be in a horse’s system on race day.

Knych then outlined one of his studies showing that betamethasone given to one joint spreads by blood throughout the entire system — including other joints.

Medina Spirit
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Medina Spirit

The appellants argued that the source of the post-Derby Derby discovery of betamethasone in Medina Spirit was a cream used to treat the rash, Otomax, which was originally prescribed on or about April 9 and was used used daily until the day before the Derby, April 30. .

While Knych, an expert in pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, drug metabolism, and biomarkers, provides her insights into the effects of betamethasone regardless of its type, she does not consider the potential side effects of betamethasone. specific details of the case.

At one point Wolsing asked, “We are told that Medina Spirit was used about 45 milligrams of Otomax between April 9 and April 30, the day before the Derby, which I’m guessing was about three weeks. From a pharmacological point of view, what effect, if any, can be said on a horse?”

Knych replied, “I don’t think we can talk one way or the other. We don’t have the science to say one way or another.”

Wolsing went on to ask whether betamethasone at 21-25 picograms/ml of blood would have a pharmacological effect on horses. The two numbers framed in that range are the betamethasone levels found in Medina Spirit’s system in the initial post-race test and in the split sample test, respectively.

Again, Knych avoids commenting on the specifics of the case: “I can’t say whether or not it has pharmacological effects at those levels. We know that corticosteroids are long-acting, so it can happen.”

In general, Knych says it’s important that betamethasone is administered.

“Certainly in sufficient concentrations, it is a potent anti-inflammatory,” says Knych. “It has the potential to mask a limp or an injury. And the main reason corticosteroids are so tightly administered in races and other show horse events for that matter, is to eliminate the possibility of an effect. affect performance, ability to hide injury.

“At the end of the day, the goal, first and foremost, is to protect the horse and protect the jogger.”

As a major thrust of the appellants’ argument that Kentucky’s regulation of betamethasone, specifically when it’s not used in injections, was so vague, there was an interesting exchange Wednesday regarding Craig Robertson, attorney for Medina Spirit coach Bob Baffert, and Wolsing on Kentucky The rules follow a prominent, precedent case in Kentucky.

The case in question was the discovery of methocarbamol in 2015 in a post-race test of Kitten’s Point that was initially completely overturned by Judge Thomas Wingate of the Franklin Circuit Court (King) in 2017. But following the court’s initial decision, key portions of Wingate’s ruling were overturned by the Kentucky Court of Appeals. canceled in December 2018.

Kitten & # 39;  s Point
Photo: Keeneland / Coady Photography

Kitten & # 39; s Point

As Robertson represents Kitten’s Point coach, Graham Motion, he is familiar with the case. Curiously, Wednesday’s session began with an admission that Knych testified as an expert witness at a committee hearing on behalf of Motion in that case.

At one point, Knych testified about studies pointing to the potential effects of corticosteroids, and Patrick asked her if they were a bit off topic. In arguing that testimony is important to hear, Wolsing invokes that Court of Appeals decision, saying it gives KHRC broad scope in shaping rules.

“Your honor, to my knowledge under the Graham Motion case held by the Court of Appeals for regulation may be subject to scrutiny, as it relates to the reasonable basis for that regulation, in particular, is because it concerns drug regulations; if the scientific community doesn’t have a definitive answer, then the regulator, in this case the KHRC, is allowed to be conservative, especially as it relates to health, safety and integrity issues,” says Wolsing. “Therefore, sir, that is why we present this kind of evidence – to show that there is some very good reason to believe that these topical corticosteroids can have global effects.” which KHRC is concerned and concerned about.

“Moreover, if you have uncertainty, that’s appropriate; according to the Graham Motion case.”

In protesting against testimony given in those same lines on Wednesday, Robertson alleges that Wolsing misinterpreted Motion’s ruling.

“I just wanted to object to the misrepresentation of the Motion case, where she seemed to say, ‘Well, we can do whatever we want in the absence of science and that’s not like at all. what the case says. That case says you have to have a logical, scientific basis for what you do in all of this.

“In this case (Medina Spirit), all of the things you’re talking about now aren’t presented as a reason for the rule change. They’re trying to create a reason to justify the change. trying to punish a man for giving topical ointments when the rule changes based solely on intra-articular.”

When Judge Wingate ruled in favor of Motion, he said in his decision, “The evidence presented by the KHRC merely indicates that there is a potential for effects at a certain dose level. The court did not may allow speculation based solely on scientific evidence.”

But in its decision to overturn Judge Wingate, the Court of Appeal found that the KHRC had broad scope in formulating its rule.

“Limiting the amount of drug in the horse’s system that is not fully understood is a valid reason for a low threshold,” the court said of the KHRC’s regulation of methocarbamol. “This is especially true given the broad powers vested in the commission. Horse racing as we know it ‘only exists because it is funded by controlled legalized gambling revenues and must be keep as much as possible to avoid suspicion.”

“Indeed, in its unusually expansive statement of legislative intent (in Kentucky law), the Kentucky General Assembly increasingly acknowledges more than that.”

For Wednesday’s hearing, the closed session lasted three and a half hours, beginning after lunch at 1:45 pm and ending at 5:15 pm.

Addressing the apparent rumors on social media about a potential settlement, Clark Brewster, attorney for Medina Spirit’s owner, Zedan Racing Stables, said they will continue to appeal the ruling, “until We won the case.”

The hearing is scheduled to continue on August 25 at 9 a.m

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