Former CHRB Chairman Defends Actions On Positive Test Dismissal; ARCI Advisory Contradicts Statement On Potential Penalty

by | 09.12.2019 | 6:47pm
Chuck Winner, former CHRB chairman (center), flanked by CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker and vice chair Madeline Auerbach

Chuck Winner, the former chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, issued the following statement concerning the CHRB's decision to dismiss possible sanctions resulting from a positive test for scopolamine, detected in a post-race sample from the April 7, 2018, Santa Anita Derby of eventual Triple Crown winner Justify.

As reported in the New York Times, trainer Bob Baffert was notified of the positive test nearly three weeks after the Santa Anita Derby and Baffert exercised his right to have a split sample tested to confirm the results. Three days after Justify won the Kentucky Derby, the secondary lab confirmed the finding, but a complaint was never filed and the case dismissed after the CHRB voted in executive session not to  pursue it. The positive test and dismissal was not made public until the New York Times report by Joe Drape was published Sept. 11.

The statement represents Winner's personal opinion and not necessarily those of the CHRB on which he served for eight years. His term and chairmanship of the board ended July 26.

Winner: “It is most unfortunate that the correct decision by the CHRB to not pursue action due to what was clearly a case of environmental contamination has been badly mischaracterized. All possible tests and procedures and investigations were followed by the CHRB Equine Medical Director and senior staff, which led to the overwhelming evidence that Justify, along with six other horses in four different barns at Santa Anita, ingested scopolamine from Jimson Weed which was present in the hay that had been delivered to the barns.

“Furthermore, under ARCI guidelines scopolamine is a class 4c substance, which would not trigger disqualification or re-distribution of a purse. Under CHRB Rule 1843.2 classifications are based on the ARCI guidelines, unless specifically modified by the Board. The Board never modified that designation.

“Beyond that, the whole premise of the story is false on its face. As stated in the story, the split sample that confirmed the presence of scopolamine  did not come back from the independent lab until three days after the Kentucky Derby.

“California law mandates that test results must remain confidential unless and until a complaint is filed and a complaint can only be filed at the end of an investigative process.

“The California Equine Medical Director, the CHRB staff and the investigators followed all correct procedures in this case. When the Board was presented with all of the facts it correctly voted to affirm the staff recommendation. It would have been a complete miscarriage of justice for the CHRB to have taken action against Justify or Baffert, knowing full well that the horse was poisoned by an environmental contaminate and not injected with a substance.”

Editor's note: Contrary to Winner's contention that Class 4/Penalty C positives “would not trigger disqualification or re-distribution of a purse” under ARCI guidelines, ARCI issued a separate media advisory that a horse would be disqualified and the purse redistributed, “in the absence of mitigating circumstances.”

The ARCI statement follows:

“The ARCI Classification and Penalty Guidelines classify scopolamine as a Class 4, Penalty Class C drug.

“According to the penalty guidelines, if this drug is found in a post-race sample, the horse is to be disqualified and the owner loses the purse in the absence of mitigating circumstances.

“The exact language reads: 'Disqualification and loss of purse in the absence of mitigating circumstances. Horse must pass commission-approved examination before being eligible to run.'

“The ARCI has no direct knowledge of the specifics of the case involving Justify and does not assume the actions of the CHRB are inconsistent with the Model Rules standard.

“It is incumbent on the CHRB to release to the public as much information about why the recommended penalty mitigation was justified in order to lay to rest questions concerning this matter and to reinforce public confidence in its actions.”

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