The New York Times reported Sept. 11 that 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify tested positive for scopolamine after his victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in early April 2018. According to documents reviewed by Times writer Joe Drape, the California Horse Racing Board subsequently voted to dismiss the case during a closed-door executive session in August 2018, after the horse had won the Triple Crown.
Scopolamine is used to treat gastrointestinal upset in humans. It can occur naturally in jimson weed, which could be present in feed or bedding materials. In the mid-1990s, fines issued to five trainers in California over scopolamine positives were rescinded after the trainers attributed the presence of the drug to jimson weed. The CHRB issued a warning to trainers in 2016, urging them to pull weeds out of straw bedding. Horses are believed to mostly avoid the weed, as it has a bitter taste. Dr. Rick Sams, former laboratory director for LGC Science Inc., told the Times scopolamine can act as a bronchodilator and that the amount detected in Justify “was excessive.”
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 Aug. 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
Baedeker indicated “a handful of other horses may have been contaminated” but offered no other details to the Times.
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