Baffert blames contamination for Triple Crown hero Justify's failed drug test
Bob Baffert on Thursday blamed contamination for Justify failing a drugs test before the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of his 2018 Triple Crown.
He was responding to a report in the New York Times that revealed Justify had tested positive for the substance scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, a month before the Derby.
The New York Times alleges that if California officials had followed the rules the failed test would have disqualified the colt from running in the Kentucky Derby, but a delay in the process enabled him to take part and later become only the second horse in four decades to land the Triple Crown.
"It's a damn shame it happened, especially to that horse," Baffert said. "It's not fair to the horse, the connections, or to me. I don't feel it diminishes his accomplishments because he got tested before that and after that. He was under heavy scrutiny all the time.
"I've never administered that drug or had it administered to one of my horses. I wouldn't even know what form it would come in.
"We're always getting notices to be aware of that stuff, but looking for it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It's tough, especially when you bed on straw.
"Fortunately I've never had one of these before, but I've seen it happen to other trainers. You hold your breath that it doesn't happen to you, but we're sitting ducks. Contamination is hard to control.
"The general public has to be educated that we do have contamination. It's common sense that nobody would intentionally give their horses something like scopolamine. I wouldn't do that. When it happened, it was like, 'Seriously? That's ridiculous.' I turned it over to my attorney because I was trying to win a Derby."
It reportedly took the California Horse Racing Board more than a month to confirm the results and it opted to drop the case after finding out.
Rick Arthur, an equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, has defended the time involved in the process.
Arthur said: “The fact of the matter is, even a high Bute case can take 60-90 days to resolve. There’s no way this case could have been resolved prior to the Kentucky Derby, which would have been the only grounds for removing the points [needed to qualify for the first leg of the Triple Crown].”
Justify, who was owned by Winstar Farm, China Horse Club and Head Of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing, followed success at Churchill Downs with wins in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes to become the 13th US Triple Crown winner, a feat achieved by greats such as Secretariat, Affirmed and American Pharoah.
Elliott Walden, president of Winstar Farm, said the operation was informed of the failed post-race drug test in mid-April 2018, turned the matter over to its attorneys and never heard anything further from the regulator.
"This has been very disappointing," Walden said. "It's ridiculous it's even being brought up now. I mean, scopolamine is a known contaminant in California. Other top trainers have dealt with this.
"It's a shame for Bob's reputation, Justify's reputation, and our reputation. Bob has been a great ambassador for the sport, and his reputation speaks for itself."
A statement from Churchill Downs, which hosts the Kentucky Derby, said: "Until media reports surfaced on Wednesday night, neither Churchill Downs nor the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had knowledge of any potential positive tests that may have emanated from California in advance of the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
"We do know that all pre- and post-race tests for 2018 Kentucky Derby participants came back clean, including Justify.
"In advance of our race each year, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission conducts pre-race out-of-competition testing for every Kentucky Derby starter and all starters’ results were clean.
"After the Kentucky Derby the top finishers are tested for a myriad of banned substances and the results for all were clean."
Triple Crown hero
Kentucky Derby, May 5
28 days after victory in the Santa Anita Derby – after which Justify failed a drug test – Bob Baffert's star was back in the winner's enclosure after success in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mike Smith's mount overcame driving rain and a sloppy surface to defeat Good Magic by two and a half lengths.
Preakness, May 19
Two weeks later Justify extended his unbeaten run to five races by landing the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. The race was run in thick fog with Justify repelling several late challengers, including runner-up Bravazo, by half a length.
Belmont, June 9
Mike Smith kept it simple by going from the front in the final leg of the Triple Crown, with Justify making all to spark memorable scenes at Belmont Park. The star three-year-old was retired the following month after sustaining a small injury and started stud duties with Coolmore in the US this year.
The penalty for a trainer’s first offence with a 4C drug – the least serious of drugs that are prohibited in the sport and the classification for scopolamine – is a maximum $500 fine.
Scopolamine is found in jimson weed but its presence in a racehorse’s system can result in disqualification.
Arthur said: “Jimson is a weed we see in California not infrequently. This is not a case of someone drugging a horse. This is a case of a horse poisoning. The source of it is a poisonous plant.
“The board, on my and the executive director’s recommendation, made the correct, appropriate and the gutsy decision to dismiss the case.”
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