Horse racing-Medina Spirit cleared to compete in Preakness Stakes

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FILE PHOTO: Horse Racing: 147th Kentucky Derby

By Rory Carroll

(Reuters) -Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, the Bob Baffert-trained horse which failed a drug test after its May 1 triumph, is eligible to compete in Saturday's Preakness Stakes, the Maryland Jockey Club said on Tuesday.

If the horse's positive test for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone is confirmed, Churchill Downs said it will strip Medina Spirit of its Kentucky Derby win and the racetrack has already banned Baffert from entering horses there.

The controversy surrounding Medina Spirit's positive test raised questions about whether the three-year-old colt would be allowed to compete in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

An agreement reached between Baffert and state horseracing regulators that includes "rigorous testing and monitoring" cleared the way for Tuesday's announcement.

Baffert has repeatedly denied giving the horse illegal substances. He said on Tuesday that an anti-fungal ointment to treat dermatitis could be the source of the positive test.

"We care deeply about the integrity of the sport, but that also includes the integrity of due process," Alan Rifkin, counsel to the Maryland Jockey Club, said at Tuesday's draw, where Medina Spirit drew the third post and was the early 9-5 favorite in the 10-horse race.

"So today we reached an agreement with Mr. Baffert and his lawyers that allows for additional testing, additional monitoring, and essentially a watch list to ensure the integrity of the sport leading up to the race."

Dionne Benson, the chief veterinary officer for the Stronach Group's 1/ST Racing, said that increased pre-race testing will ensure that officials will know what drugs are in the horses' bodies before they enter the gate.

"Traditionally, most of the testing will occur after the race," she said. "This allows us to, instead of addressing the issue after the fact, prevent it from becoming a problem."

Test results will come back on Friday, she added.

Betamethasone, which is permitted at certain levels in some racing jurisdictions, is not allowed at any level in Maryland so if it is found in Medina Spirit or any other horse, regulators will ask for the horse to be scratched.

North American horse racing has come under fire in recent years following the death of horses due to the widespread use of drugs in the sport.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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