Report: Justify failed drug test before Triple Crown run

Friday, September 13, 2019

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Times says Justify won the 2018 Triple Crown after a failed postrace drug test at a California track that could have kept the horse out of the Kentucky Derby.

The newspaper reported on Wednesday (September 11) that the Bob Baffert-trained Justify tested positive for the drug scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby, one of the final prep races for the Kentucky Derby. Justify went on to win the Derby and took the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to complete the American Triple Crown.

The Times said instead of a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) took more than a month to confirm the results. The newspaper also reported that instead of filing a public complaint, the board made decisions behind closed doors as it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for horses found to have scopolamine in their systems.

The newspaper said test results, e-mails and internal memorandums show how California regulators waited nearly three weeks, until the Kentucky Derby was only nine days away, to notify Baffert of the positive test. Then, two months after the Belmont victory, the board disposed of the inquiry altogether during a closed-door executive session.

The Times said Baffert didn't respond to multiple attempts seeking comment.

Scopolamine in humans is used to prevent nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness or from anesthesia given during surgery. Scopolamine is also used to treat certain stomach or intestinal problems, muscle spasms, and Parkinson-like conditions.

The amount of the drug in Justify's system is apparently considered “excessive,” and suggests “intentional intervention”, according to an expert who spoke with the Times. Scopolamine reportedly “can act as a bronchodilator to clear a horse's airway and optimise a horse's heart rate, making the horse more efficient”.

The Times indicates trainer Bob Baffert, who did not provide comment on the story, was informed of the positive before Justify shipped to Kentucky for the Derby, and exercised his right to a split sample test. That test confirmed the presence of the drug, though it was not returned until after the Kentucky Derby.

After the split sample confirmed the finding, CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker reportedly informed commissioners of the positive and stated a complaint would be issued and a hearing would be scheduled. Neither took place, according to the Times, and the CHRB voted unanimously not to proceed with the case on August 23. In October, the Times reported, the CHRB followed a previous recommendation of the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules and voted to reduce the penalty for scopolamine, which is classified by ARCI as a Class 4 drug.


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