- The New York Times reported Wednesday that the now-retired race horse Justify failed a drug test before the 2018 Kentucky Derby, the first of three races in the American Triple Crown.
- A failed drug test would usually result in disqualification and the forfeiture of any prize money. Instead, The Times said, the California Horse Racing Board took weeks to confirm the positive results of the doping test and ultimately dismissed the case.
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The race horse Justify made history in 2018 by being the first colt, who did not race as 2-year-old, to win the 2018 Triple Crown in over a century.
The New York Times on Wednesday, however, said it had uncovered documents showing that the horse failed a drug test before the Kentucky Derby, the first of the three races that make up the American Triple Crown.
Chuck Winner, the chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, owns financial interest in Justify and other horses trained by the Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, but The Times said it did not find evidence of “pressure or tampering by Justify’s owners.”
Justify was tested April 7, 2018, the date of the Santa Anita Derby, which he won – a victory needed to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
The samples were sent to a lab on April 10. The Times said the results revealed an “excessive” amount of scopolamine – a banned substance – in the horse’s system, suggesting that it was intentionally used.
The drug can “can act as a bronchodilator to clear a horse’s airway and optimize a horse’s heart rate, making the horse more efficient,” The Times wrote, citing Dr. Rick Sams, who previously worked in the drug lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. In humans it is used to treat stomach issues.
A failed drug test would usually result in disqualification and the forfeiture of any prize money, which could have quashed Justify’s entry to the Kentucky Derby.
According documents and memos seen by The Times, the timeline went as follows:
- April 18, the lab sends out the result.
- April 20, the California Horse Racing Board’s equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, sends email to lawyers; Rick Baedeker, the board’s executive director; and its interim chief investigator saying the case would proceed “differently than usual.” (Baedeker told The Times he thought this meant it would be rigorous.)
- April 26, Baffert is notified. He requests an independent lab test. (Baffert did not provide a comment to The Times.)
- May 1, the sample is sent to an independent lab.
- May 5, the Kentucky Derby is held. Justify wins.
- May 8, a second lab verifies the initial result. Baedeker tells the California Horse Racing Board, and a memo from Baedeker says, “The C.H.R.B. investigations unit will issue a complaint and a hearing will be scheduled.” There is no evidence of a complaint or a hearing.
- May 19, Justify wins Preakness Stakes.
- June 9, Justify wins Belmont Stakes, therefore winning Triple Crown.
- August 23, according to The Times, Baedeker “said he presented the Justify case directly to the commissioners of the California Horse Racing Board in a private executive session, a step he had never taken in his 5-1/2-year tenure.” The board votes unanimously not to move the case forward.
A few months after deciding to drop the case, the board decided to lower the penalty for a positive scopolamine test to a fine and a suspension.
In response to The Times, Baedeker said timing complicated the response.
“There was no way that we could have come up with an investigative report prior to the Kentucky Derby,” he told The 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.”
He also said there was an abundance of caution because scopolamine could be found in jimson weed, which could have contaminated the feed, saying other horses had traces of the drug below the “screening level.” The Times said that “little supporting evidence” was provided to back up this claim.
Justify’s breeding rights were sold for $60 million at the end of May 2018.