In his autobiography, Bob Baffert, six-time Kentucky-Derby winner and two-time Triple-Crown winner, confessed that he gave a horse morphine in 1976. He said he was a college student who did it partly out of ignorance and partly because of the pressure to win. How are those two reasons consistent? There was either ignorance or there was not. How does pressure enter into a decision to do something that you did not know was wrong?
Be that as it may, the California Racing Board thought through the reasoning and suspended Mr. Baffert from horse-racing for a year. Apparently the punishment was insufficient. Mr. Baffert has had four horses fail drug tests in just the last six months. Over the course of his career, his horses have failed 29 drug tests. The Barometer has chronicled previously those last few tests, including Mr. Baffert’s “dog ate my homework” excuses.
Two Baffert-trained horses tested positive for lidocaine. One had won the Arkansas Derby on May 2 ($300,000 prize). The other had won the Acorn Stakes at Belmont by 19 lengths in record time. Justify, the 2018 Triple-Crown winner, had tested positive for scopolamine following his win in the Santa Anita Derby. The closed hearing of the California Horse Racing Board concluded (long after the Triple Crown results and well after Justify was sold for breeding rights for $60 million) that environmental conditions, not intentional doping, caused the presence of scopolamine. Apparently, scopolamine exists naturally in feed and bedding. The California Horse Racing Board is currently holding hearings to determine whether to revoke Baffert’s $600,000 Santa Anita prize. The issue is whether the amount of scopolamine in Justify was too high to have come from feed or bedding. Was it naturally occurring scopolamine or was it scopolamine that came in during the wee hours of the morning?
Two other Baffert horses, Carlatan and Gamine, tested positive for lidocaine. Baffert and others argued that the horses were accidentally exposed to lidocaine by an assistant trainer who had applied a medicinal patch to his own back, i.e., he used Salonpas, which transferred small amounts to the horses through the application of a tongue tie (keeps horses from getting their tongues over the bit — it is elastic wrapped around a horse’s tongue and then tied along the lower jaw). Following the hearing Baffert was suspended for 15 days and the first-place wins for the horses were taken back, along with the cash.
No wonder the horses do better with lidocaine — try tying your tongue down to your lower jaw.
Now, as three Baffert horses are set for the Breeder’s Cup (about $6 million in prize money), the rest of the pack (or their trainers) has noted that one of the horses, Gamine, has failed two drug tests. The owners and trainers wonder why Baffert has not been banned from the race. Not to worry — the regulators are looking into it. The Barometer guesses the investigation will wrap up after the race. For the moment, Baffert and those responsible for oversight are quiet. Perhaps tongue-tied? One owner who has stopped competing noted it becomes “difficult to win because of the cheating.” Seems appropriate for this period in our history.