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Churchill Downs Bans Baffert: The End Of Horse Racing?

When the Hall of Fame trainer is censured by the venerable track after another failed drug test — this involving the Kentucky Derby winner — it might be time for a once-beautiful sport to fade away in a cloud of corruption.

Jay Mariotti



The man with the snow-white hair and tinted glasses says he’s innocent. Of course, so did O.J. Simpson, Richard Nixon and Herodotus, but they actually might have had more credibility than Bullcrappin’ Bob Baffert, who drugs up racehorses as routinely as the rest of us take showers.

Bob Baffert Suspended 15 Days for Drug Positives - The New York Times

There wasn’t even a slight tremor on the sports shock meter when Medina Spirit, Baffert’s seventh Kentucky Derby winner, failed a post-race test for a banned substance. It was the fifth time in 13 months that a Baffert-trained horse tested positive, pushing the number of dirties to at least 30 in a career that somehow has been celebrated despite the cruel acts happening in his barns. Officials at famed Churchill Downs moved quickly Sunday to separate themselves from Bullcrappin’ Bob, banning him from entering horses at the track and preparing to invalidate the victory once the findings are confirmed by a split sample.

“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,” said a statement from the track. “Churchill Downs will not tolerate it.”

Yet Baffert, accustomed to self-defense tactics, says he did not inject 21 picograms of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory steroid, into the system of Medina Spirit — twice the legal limit in Kentucky. He wants us to believe him despite the presence of the same drug in another Baffert entry, Gamine, after the filly’s third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks last year. He wants us to believe him even though, just last month in Arkansas, two of his horses tested positive for lidocaine, a painkiller. Every time he’s accused, Bullcrappin’ Bob drags his attorney to a news briefing and vows to fight the allegations, citing human error, accidental exposure or some other bunk. And repeatedly, when the mainstream sports world isn’t looking, suspensions are reduced to small fines or brief bans that quickly are forgotten because, hey, he’s Bob Baffert and, hey, he’s the only recognizable figure left in a broken-down sport.

Sure enough, Baffert was accompanied by attorney Craig Robertson as he spoke to the media in his Churchill Downs stall. He resorted to the same dog-eared script he memorized long ago, nose growing by the minute as he vowed to battle the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission with blood, hair and DNA samples and whatever peripheral nonsense he can muster.

“I got the biggest gut-punch in racing, for something I didn’t do,” he said. “I was totally shocked when I heard this news. I’m still trying to absorb it. I am the most scrutinized trainer. And I am OK with that. The last thing I want to do is something that would jeopardize the greatest sport.”

So why does it keep happening, Bob? When drugs are killing horses by the dozens in America, year after heart-wrenching year, why does racing’s most heralded trainer remain a participating conspirator in the corruption? A better question: Why isn’t Baffert being investigated by the feds, especially in a sport dependent on the revenues of gamblers both serious and casual? This is where he wants us to think he’s being sabotaged by another trainer or sinister party, which might be true in a case or two but not 30-plus times over decades. All people are crooks in this racket.

“A complete injustice,” Baffert said. “I don’t feel embarrassed; I feel I was wronged. We’re going to show them everything. This horse was never treated with that. He’s a great horse; he doesn’t deserve this. He ran a gallant race.

“This shouldn’t have happened. There’s a problem somewhere. It didn’t come from us. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I know everybody is not out to get me, but there’s definitely something wrong. Why is it happening? You know, there’s problems in racing, but it’s not Bob Baffert.”

Churchill Downs doesn’t believe him, nor should it. This is the equivalent of Augusta National banning Tiger Woods if he’d cheated, or Yankee Stadium ordering a deceitful Alex Rodriguez to go home — wait, it did. This is Barry Bonds multiplied. The question: To what extent will the track continue its legal fight against the sport’s rock star, who hobs-nobs with celebrities and carries media importance? If for some creepy reason the split sample clears Baffert, will the lords of the Twin Spires just let the Hall of Famer walk, as always?

And what about the sport as a whole, including a certain broadcast partner with May ratings at stake? You think NBC wants a dirty drug test to muddle its story line at the upcoming Preakness? Baffert, who never has lost in Baltimore with a Derby winner, will try to win for a record eighth time. And because the next detection phase could take two weeks to a month, NBC will cover the event as if Medina Spirit is pursuing a Triple Crown, even if Churchill Downs eventually nails Baffert and declares Mandaloun the winner. I’m guessing ethics aren’t prominent on NBC’s priorities list after Mike Tirico interviewed mutual admirers Baffert and Bill Belichick — Mr. Spygate — in a segment before the Derby. Kicking and screaming, the squeamish Tirico will have to cover it, unless the network tells him not to.

If Baffert is confirmed in Louisville as a doping fiend, a beautiful sport will be further swallowed by a black cloud that suggests the end is near. When a hallowed shrine is so disgusted with a legendary name that it won’t let him through the gates, maybe it’s time for horse racing to cease as we know it. Why would gamblers, even those who like showing up at the Derby in fancy hats, trust any of this? Isn’t it demeaning, beneath them?

“I’m worried about our sport,” Baffert said. “Our sport, we’ve taken a lot of hits as a sport. These are pretty serious accusations here, but we’re going to get to the bottom of it and find out. We know we didn’t do it.”

Derby winner Medina Spirit fails postrace drug test; Bob Baffert banned at  Churchill Downs

We’ve heard this denial trail before. Lance Armstrong went down it, too far, before his conscience and the feds attacked him.

So all that’s left for Bullcrappin’ Bob, then, is the Oprah interview.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.




In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.


I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves



Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table



Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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