Bob Baffert, the embattled king of horse training, has spent the past two-plus years waging a legal war against some of the most powerful entities in his sport, fighting with limited success to overturn lengthy bans in the wake of cascading scandals involving flunked drug tests and horse deaths.
Last fall, though, Baffert trained his well-resourced legal machine on arguably lesser targets: a couple of obscure railbirds who had been chirping about him on the site formerly known as Twitter.
Baffert sued Justin Wunderler and Daniel DiCorcia, horse racing bettors with moderate followings on X, in September, alleging they had defamed and attempted to extort him. Baffert’s complaint, filed in federal court in San Diego, claimed that the two “collectively spearheaded a conspiracy theory” that Baffert engaged in illegal blood doping with his horses and that they attempted to blackmail Baffert by threatening to release an alleged damaging video.
But one of those “two schmoes,” as the man’s lawyer calls them, is fighting back.
DiCorcia’s attorney, Jeff Lewis, argued in a recent filing that Baffert, whose dozens of drug violations and the deaths of top thoroughbreds in his care have made him the most controversial figure in the sport, is “libel-proof” because he already has such a poor reputation. Lewis called Baffert the “Lance Armstrong of horse racing,” comparing him to the blood-doping cyclist, and said his client was sued “for suggesting what the world already knows: that Baffert is notorious for doping and mistreating horses.”
In an interview, his first since being sued, DiCorcia, 43, said Baffert attempted to intimidate his critics by picking on two regular guys with little recourse. DiCorcia has peddled anti-Baffert and other horse racing T-shirts out of his car, and Wunderler lost thousands betting against a Baffert horse.
“They’re making my life miserable and using their money and power to make me suffer,” DiCorcia said.
He pointed out that Baffert has been lampooned on “Saturday Night Live” and held up by “60 Minutes” as an example of the sport’s doping problems. “He’s not suing them,” DiCorcia said. “Let’s sue the guy with 16,000 Twitter followers.”
Last week, Baffert’s lawyers filed 981 pages of legal arguments against DiCorcia’s motion to dismiss the suit, including a catalogue of instances in which the men posted on X about Baffert allegedly cheating. In an interview, Baffert’s lead attorney, Clark Brewster, said the trainer plans to see the litigation through.
“These guys have developed a kind of — I don’t know if it’s a means to get attention or whatever — this onslaught of false statements accusing Bob of criminal activity,” Brewster said in an interview. “And we’ll just see the support for that.”
DiCorcia’s trouble with Baffert and his wife, Jill, began years before the offensive tweets. DiCorcia, who goes by “Shoe,” has sold racing-themed T-shirts out of the trunk of his Ford Edge outside of Monmouth Park, a New Jersey track. In 2020, he was attempting to parlay his growing following on Twitter, where he goes by @barshoelife, into business for his apparel website.
DiCorcia said the shirts were supposed to be lighthearted — an attempt to market “good guys and bad guys, like we have in every other sport.” He said that when he saw Baffert and his wife at a Waffle House in Kentucky that year, he congratulated them on Baffert’s recent Breeders’ Cup Classic win.
And when DiCorcia received an online order for the syringe T-shirt from Jill Baffert, he assumed she was in on the joke. DiCorcia sent her the shirt with a note congratulating her on her sense of humor, adding, “I hope you wear it for Bob!”
“I can assure you, no one on this end finds your malicious attacks on Bob light or funny,” Jill Baffert wrote back in an email DiCorcia shared with The Post, adding, “Next time you run into us at the Waffle House, do everyone a favor and keep your congratulations to yourself.”
The next run-in came in June, in the winner’s circle following the Belmont Stakes in New York, where DiCorcia was accompanying a friend who owned a winning horse. DiCorcia shared with The Post a video of DiCorcia having an apparently heated exchange with Baffert, who was flanked by Jill and their lawyer Brewster. Though Baffert can’t be heard in the video, DiCorcia said the trainer was profanely chewing him out for the T-shirts.
DiCorcia has long been trackside buddies with Wunderler, a fellow racing gadfly who goes by @SwiftHitter on X. Wunderler is, as DiCorcia describes it, a “disgruntled horse player” on a downward spiral since losing $2,000 on the 2021 Kentucky Derby by betting on Mandaloun, the horse that came in second to Baffert’s Medina Spirit.
Medina Spirit’s Derby victory was disqualified after he tested positive for betamethasone, making Mandaloun the retroactive winner — a decision Baffert continues to fight in court, claiming it was the result of a topical ointment. But gambling payouts weren’t affected. Wunderler is among the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed against Baffert over the betting losses; he claims in court records that he would’ve made $40,000 if he was paid out for Mandaloun’s victory. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Wunderler, who has 13,000 followers on X, began what Baffert’s lawyers call his and DiCorcia’s “extortionist demands to end their relentless harassment” of Baffert last spring, when Wunderler tweeted that they “will call a truce with Baffert for 500k. No shirts or mention of Baffert.” And they would sign a nondisclosure agreement, he posted.
In September, Wunderler claimed he had a damaging video “that will end Baffert.” DiCorcia said he has never seen the video but nonetheless acted as his buddy’s hypeman for it, tweeting that Wunderler should “make a deal” with Baffert involving the trainer’s wife and a couple of horses. “[Jill] and 2 two year olds to be named later for the video,” DiCorcia tweeted, along with a few crying-laughing emojis. He shortly afterward clarified that he was joking.
DiCorcia held a forum on Spaces, X’s version of a public conference call, titled “Baffert Video Release” in which Wunderler teased that the video was “incriminating” but said he would withhold its release if Baffert left racing “by tomorrow.”
“This is not no practical joke,” Wunderler warned, according to a transcript of the conversation filed in court by Baffert’s lawyers. “We’re not trolling. The video’s bad.”
According to Baffert’s complaint, Wunderler also texted a “third party,” asking them to forward a request to Baffert’s lawyers seeking “1k for those two clips,” apparently referring to excerpts of the alleged video.
Less than a month later, Baffert sued the two men for an alleged conspiracy to extort him and also for a history of what the trainer called defamatory tweets suggesting Baffert engaged in blood doping.
The complaint only cited two specific acts by DiCorcia — tweeting about the “deal” for the video and creating the Spaces forum for Wunderler to discuss it. DiCorcia said he was stunned when he learned Baffert was targeting his meager resources.
“Sue me for what?” DiCorcia texted his friends. “A bicycle?”
Brewster acknowledged that Wunderler had a more active role in the alleged conspiracy against Baffert. “But they’ve done it in tandem,” Brewster said.
DiCorcia’s lawyer, Lewis, said Baffert’s complaint was an example of litigation in which “money is no object and you’re just filing to silence someone.” And it offers a rare legal opportunity, Lewis said: “I’ve never had a case where I was able to argue the libel-proof doctrine, which is: Your reputation is so terrible that you, as a matter of law, can’t come to court and seek damages.”
Brewster said DiCorcia’s lawyer had either “boldly or blunderingly” compared his client with the famous cheat Armstrong. “If I had a lawyer, and that was his defense, and it was factually completely empty,” Brewster said, “I would be concerned.”