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Journalism Showcase: “It’s an interesting thing sitting across from someone who is accused of cheating and asking him why we should believe him.”

Before the Kentucky Derby, ESPN's Marty Smith lands an exclusive interview with banned horse racing trainer Bob Baffert; the discussion will air in two parts on SportsCenter Friday and Saturday

For years, Bob Baffert was one of the most winning trainers in thoroughbred racing, scoring seven Kentucky Derby wins. But his career and legacy are now in jeopardy as his 2021 Derby winner, Medina Spirit, was stripped of the win after failing a post-race drug test and some have labeled Baffert as a cheater.

Baffert has avoided the media for much of the past year but agreed to a sit-down interview with ESPN’s Marty Smith, saying he will not do any other interviews.

Smith and ESPN producer Kristine Kugler conducted the interview at Baffert’s home in Los Angeles. Part 1 will debut on the noon ET edition of SportsCenter Friday, with Part 2 to air in the 7 a.m. show on Saturday, before that afternoon’s Kentucky Derby.

An excerpt of the interview appears in the video above.

Smith spoke with Front Row:

What was the process of securing this interview? How long did it take?
Having covered the Triple Crown for several years now, I’ve built a good rapport with Mr. Baffert. So when I reached out to him last month about the potential to interview him, I simply told him he deserved to share his truth and that I’d like to offer him the ESPN platform to do so.

I told him that I’d fly to California and ask him pointed questions. He asked for a week or 10 days to consider it. I followed up after 12 days, and he agreed to chat with me. So from the initial ask to the morning of the interview, it wasn’t a very long increment of time. But if we’re being honest, it was years in the making.

First of all, he answered every question I asked, no matter how pointed. This is Mr. Baffert’s first in-depth explanation of why he believes Medina Spirit should not have been penalized and why he is fighting so hard — not only for Medina Spirit’s legacy, but for his own. – Marty Smith

Why do you think he did it?
Given the historic successes of his horses and his Hall of Fame resume, I’ve interviewed Mr. Baffert more than I’ve interviewed anyone else in the sport. We built a mutual respect for one another. I told him if he agreed to the interview, that my questions would be direct, often hard questions, but that they would be fair. He respected that. It’s an interesting thing sitting across from someone who is accused of cheating and asking him why we should believe him.

What do you think viewers will take away from the interview?
First of all, he answered every question I asked, no matter how pointed. This is Mr. Baffert’s first in-depth explanation of why he believes Medina Spirit should not have been penalized and why he is fighting so hard — not only for Medina Spirit’s legacy, but for his own.

Kristine Kugler produced the excerpt above.

PRODUCER KRISTINE KUGLER ON WAITING TO APPROACH BAFFERT

ESPN’s Marty Smith (R) interviews controversial horse trainer Bob Baffert in April for interviews airing on SportsCenter Friday and Saturday in anticipation of The Kentucky Derby. (Kristine Kugler/ESPN)

“Marty and I talked on and off about making the ask to Baffert throughout the winter and early spring. I wanted to wait until after the Santa Anita Derby to see exactly what was going to shake out with Baffert’s Kentucky Derby contenders. Once Taiba and Messier got transferred out of Baffert’s barn – and followed that up by finishing 1-2 – we knew the story was a little more complicated. Now there was tangible loss of opportunity for Baffert to win another Kentucky Derby.

So we reached out after the Santa Anita Derby – shortly before Easter.”

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