First, there was this year’s Kentucky Derby with the disqualification. Country House, a 65-1 odds horse, won the Derby after Maximum Security was disqualified because of a lane foul. Now we learn that Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner, tested positive for for scopolamine, a banned substance that can enhance performance. The drug can clear the airway and optimize the heart rate. However, the trainer of Justify, Bob Baffert, and owner said that scopolamine can be found in jimsyn weed, which can grow in the wild where dung is found and hay and straw are produced. Horses eat hay and straw! Jimsyn weed gets mixed in and straight to the horse’s mouth. “Environmental contamination” is a defense when horses test positive. The Barometer is stunned that Lance Armstrong did not think of this one.
The failed drug test was conducted on April 7, 2018. By the time the test results were returned, it was April 18, 2018, two weeks before the Derby.The amount found was 300 nanograms per milliliter, which was excessive. However, in fairness, it seems that all of the horses tested positive for scopolamine, just not at the Justify level. At the time of the test, Justify was undefeated and just had one more race prior to the Derby (Santa Anita) to qualify. Justify qualified, but let’s just add that the pony was lucky to make it alive out of that facility. They lost 30 horses in six months there.
At any rate, an investigation into an environmental defense takes two months. The California Horse Racing Board had five to eight days to get such an investigation done. Bob Baffert, Justify’s trainer was notified on April 28, 2018 of the positive test, as is provided under the regulations, he asked that another sample from the test be sent to an approved independent lab. The sample was sent to an independent lab on May 1, and the results were confirmed on May 8. The Kentucky Derby was on May 5, 2018, a race Justify won.
No one ever filed a complaint with the California Horse Racing Board, so there was never a hearing. Rick Baedeker, the executive director of the Board, took the case directly to the commissioners of the Board. In a private executive session (something that had never been done before), the Board voted unanimously not to proceed with the case against Bob Baffert. In addition, The Board changed the penalty for a finding of scopolamine from disqualification and forfeiture of the purse to a fine and suspension.
The interesting thing about the Board is that it is made up of folks who own horses and employ Baffert as their trainer. The Board members regulate the jockeys and trainers that they employ. When the regulators are the regulees, there is a bit of a conflict. Sounds like rigorous oversight is not the game. Baffert was investigated in 2013 when seven horses he was training died within a 16-month period. The horses had been given a thyroid hormone without a diagnosis of any thyroid problems. Baffert said that he gave the horses the drug to build them up. The drug can cause weight loss. No action was taken against Baffert then. The Board says that it exercised reason and common sense and saved the taxpayers money by not pursuing the case.
Justify is currently in Australia, doing stud things for $450,000 per day. Not bad work if you can get it. No word on jimsyn weed intake.