In the wake of a New York Times story revealing that 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify tested positive for scopolamine after the Santa Anita Derby, trainer Bob Baffert and his attorney are pushing back against implications Baffert administered the substance to the colt intentionally.
Baffert released the following statement on Thursday:
“I unequivocally reject any implication that scopolamine was ever intentionally administered to Justify, or any of my horses. Test results indicating trace amounts of the drug were undoubtedly the result of environmental contamination caused by the presence of Jimson Weed in feed, a naturally growing substance in areas where hay and straw are produced in California. In addition, I had no input into, or influence on, the decisions made by the California Horse Racing Board.
Following the Santa Anita Derby, Justify raced in three different jurisdictions during his Triple Crown run — Kentucky, Maryland and New York. He passed all drug tests in those jurisdictions. I call on the relevant testing authorities in those jurisdictions to immediately release information related to Justify's test results.”
W. Craig Robertson III distributed a letter addressed to Times writer Joe Drape to news media Thursday afternoon on Baffert's behalf, stating the Sept. 11 story was “long on sensationalism, short on facts, and does a great disservice to Mr. Baffert, Justify, and the entire horse industry.”
Robertson states, among other things, that there was never any intentional administration of scopolamine to Justify, that the substance is a known environmental contaminant, and that the horse passed all drug tests administered along the Triple Crown trail.
Further, Robertson writes, Baffert was not involved in the California Horse Racing Board's decision not to pursue charges against him related to the overage, which according to Drape's article was voted upon unanimously in a private meeting of the Board last August. Robertson said he reached out to the CHRB last year, making clear that he would defend his client if Justify were disqualified or Baffert suspended, and the CHRB chose not to “pursue a frivolous case that had no merit.”
“The CHRB made the wise decision and should be commended, instead of attacked, for doing so,” wrote Robertson. “The CHRB did right by all parties, including the industry, in this case.”
Robertson's letter made the rounds on Twitter Thursday afternoon, but Drape tweeted he has yet to receive a copy personally.
— Connie Leonard (@ConnieLeonard) September 12, 2019
Baffert also gave an interview to The Blood-Horse Thursday, stating he believes contamination is the reason for the horse's positive test. Jimson weed has previously been implicated in some scopolamine positives, although Drape's sources indicated the amount found in Justify's positive test were considered high.
“We're always getting notices to be aware of that stuff, but looking for it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It's tough, especially when you bed on straw,” Baffert told The Blood-Horse.
Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar Farm, also told the magazine he was informed of the positive in April 2018. Walden said he turned the matter over to his attorneys, and never heard about it again. Walden called it “very disappointing” and “ridiculous” that the test was being reported now.
Churchill Downs president Kevin Flannery issued a statement Thursday, emphasizing neither the track nor the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission knew anything about the positive from the Santa Anita Derby at the time of the horse's Kentucky Derby start. (Testing on the split sample from the Santa Anita Derby was not complete at the time of the Kentucky Derby.)
The statement follows:
“Until media reports surfaced Wednesday night, neither Churchill Downs nor the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had knowledge of any potential positive tests that may have emanated from California in advance of the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
We do know that all pre- and post-race tests for 2018 Kentucky Derby participants came back clean, including Justify. In advance of our race each year, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission conducts pre-race out-of-competition testing for every Kentucky Derby starter and all starters' results were clean. After the race, the top finishers are tested for a myriad of banned substances and the results for all were clean.”
The Maryland Jockey Club released the following statement Thursday afternoon:
“Justify, as with every horse who raced in the 2018 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, MD, was subjected to pre-race drug testing by the Maryland Racing Commission. Justify, as the winner of the 143rd Preakness, along with several other horses who competed, also received extensive post-race testing by that same body. The Maryland Jockey Club was informed that all of those tests came back negative for any illicit substance or for the overages of any prohibited medication.”
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