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Horse Racing

Justify’s Triple Crown run might have been aided by a banned substance


(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Before embarking on his record-setting run to the 2018 Triple Crown, Justify apparently failed a drug test one month before the Kentucky Derby.

According to an explosive New York Times report, the violation was swept under a bale of hay by the California Horse Racing Board after the horse completed the Triple Crown by winning The Belmont Stakes.

The Times reported that Justify, one of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert’s prized mounts, tested positive for scopolamine shortly after winning a prep race, the Santa Anita Derby.

The drug is known to affect performance. It helps clear a horse’s airway and regulate its heart to make it race more efficiently. Even though Justify was unbeaten prior to Santa Anita, the horse was required to finish first or second in the race to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

The positive test should have signaled the start of a comprehensive investigation that might have included a disqualification, the loss of prize money and his elimination from the Kentucky Derby field.

Instead, regulators in California waited until nine before the Derby to let Baffert know what was happening. Baffert then asked for a second drug test, which ultimately reconfirmed the original result three days after Justify won the Derby.

“This nasty cover-up has cheated the betting public and the true winners of the Santa Anita and Kentucky derbies,” PETA vice president Kathy Guillermo told USAToday. “Even worse, Bob Baffert apparently drugged and harmed Justify — a horse who was completely at his mercy. Baffert should be suspended and held accountable, and Justify should be disqualified from the Triple Crown victory. Even at the highest levels, horse racing is crooked to the core and must be overhauled.”

Rick Baedeker, the executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, told the Times his organization felt it needed to take its time in proceeding.

“There was no way that we could have come up with an investigative report prior to the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “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 Times, citing emails and memorandums, what made the matter worse was the racing board did not hold a hearing or file a complaint about Justify until two months after his win at the Belmont. By that time, the horse’s owners had sold his breeding rights for $60 million. And once it did address it, the board’s board of directors dismissed the case.

Bob Baffert

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

It all makes you wonder how something that appeared so cut and dried, that obviously would have resulted in many penalties and sanctions for a lesser horse, could be pushed aside for so long and then finally dropped.

The excuse offered by the board was the positive test could have resulted from some bad foot the horse had eaten prior to the Santa Anita Derby. Regulators understood that scopolamine is often found in jimson weed, which grows where dung is present and can be mixed in feed.

But a former drug chief in Kentucky, Rick Sims, told The Times the amount of drugs found in Justify’s system pointed to a deliberate effort to enhance his performance.

The Times said that two months after the Justify case was dropped, the California board re-categorized the penalties of a failed scopolamine test from a disqualification to a fine and a possible suspension.

“We take seriously the integrity of horse racing in California and are committed to implementing the highest standards of safety and accountability for all horses, jockeys and participants,” the California Horse Racing Board said in a statement.

The board’s chairman Chuck Winner has money invested in Baffert-trained horses. Baffert did not respond to a series of attempts to contact him by the Times.