According to the New York Times, the failed drug test was reviewed by the California Horse Racing Board which took almost a month to come back with the results. The board should have filed a public complaint but instead moved to drop the case against the horse and lighten the penalty for any horse with the substance found in their system.
Only a few people were aware of the failed drug test which took place on April 7, 2018 following the Justify’s win at the Santa Anita Derby. He tested positive for a significant amount of scopolamine which veterinarians say can enhance performance.
In most cases, the failed drug test would mean disqualification and forfeiture of both the prize money. It would have also prevented Justify from participating in the Kentucky Derby. The horse needed to finish first or second in the race to qualify for the derby.
Justify ended up winning the derby and eventually became the 13th Triple Crown in the past 100 years.
According to test results, emails and internal memorandums discovered by the New York Times, California regulators waited three weeks to notify Hall of Fame horse trainer Bob Baffert that the horse had failed the test. At that point, the Derby was 9 days away.
Four months later, the board dropped the inquiry altogether during a closed-door executive session. Raising questions about how they determined they should drop the case and what went into the decision making process.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Board Said the Failed Test Came from Contaminated Food
Rick Baedeker, the executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, justified his handling of the issue by saying scopolamine can be found in jimson weed which grows around dung and is sometimes inadvertently mixed into food. The board was unsure of what caused the failed test and reportedly didn’t want to disqualify the horse because of a mistake.
“There was no way that we could have come up with an investigative report prior to the Kentucky Derby,” he told the New York Times. “That’s impossible. Well, that’s not impossible, that would have been careless and reckless for us to tell an investigator what usually takes you two months, you have to get done in five days, eight days. We weren’t going to do that.”
According to the New York Times, “Dr. Rick Sams, who ran the drug lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission from 2011 to 2018, told the New York Times that scopolamine can act as a bronchodilator to clear a horse’s airway and optimize a horse’s heart rate, making the horse more efficient. 300 nanograms per milliliter was found in Justify’s system which suggests the drug was used to enhance performance.”
Despite the excessive amount of scopolamine found in the horse’s system, the board decided that the failed test was a result of contaminated food. They also voted unanimously to dismiss the case. Then in October, they lessened the penalty for a scopolamine violation to a fine and possible suspension.
2. The Senior Vice President of PETA Claims It’s A “Cover up” and Called for Baffert to Be Suspended
Kathy Guillermo, Senior Vice President of PETA, called the case a “nasty cover-up” in an official statement and said it “has cheated the betting public and shown that the true winners of the Santa Anita and Kentucky derbies were Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic, although winning horses have nothing to cheer about;”
She also condemned Justify’s trainer Bob Baffert who she says “apparently drugged and harmed Justify—a horse who was completely at his mercy and now is being treated like a sex slave, which will take a toll on him.” She added that “Baffert should be suspended and held accountable, and Justify should be disqualified from the Triple Crown victory.” for their role in the alleged drugging and cover-up.
3. The Chairman of the California Horse Racing Board Is Invested in Horses Trained by Baffert
According to the report by the New York Times, Chuck Winner, the chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, owns an interest in horses trained by Bob Baffert. Two other board members “employ trainers and jockeys they regulate.”
The report details the horses list of investors which include “Kentucky-based WinStar Farm, owned by Kenny Troutt, a billionaire commercial thoroughbred breeder; the mysterious China Horse Club, whose 200 members from mainland China and beyond have paid $1 million to join; and an equine investment fund with ties to the billionaire investor George Soros.”
California law does not prohibit horse owners from being appointed as regulatory board members.
Former chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, Joe Gorajec, told the New York Times that “Minimal prohibitions should preclude active horse owners, trainers, breeders and jockeys, or anyone else that derives income from the business, to serve on a commission,” adding that, “Commissioners should be prohibited from wagering in the state they serve.”
4. Baffert Has Been Investigated by the Board Before
Back in 2013, seven horses died in Bob Baffert’s care over a 16-month period, leading to an investigation by the California Horse Racing Board.
The investigation revealed that Baffert had been giving his horses a thyroid hormone without first checking to see if any of them had thyroid problems.
According to the New York Times, “Baffert told the investigators that he thought the medication would help “build up” his horses even though the drug is generally associated with weight loss. In that case, the board’s report found no evidence “that C.H.R.B. rules or regulations have been violated.”
5. Justify’s Owners Sold His Breeding Rights for $60 Million
Following Justify’s Triple Crown, Baffert and company sold his breeding rights to Coolmore Stud for $60 million.
According to the New York Times, Justify is now retired and mates up to three times a day. The international breeding concern that bought the rights receives as much as $150,000 for one mating or $450,000 per day over a five-month breeding session.
By now, Coolmore has most likely recouped the entirety of their $60 million investment.