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ESPN News Services
Justify failed a drug test one month before the 2018 Kentucky Derby, and the California Horse Racing Board decided to dismiss the case after the colt went on to win the Triple Crown, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
According to the newspaper, Justify tested positive for scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby — and qualifying for the Kentucky Derby in the process — on April 7, 2018. Scopolamine is a banned substance that can enhance performance, according to the Times.
Such a result should have resulted in a disqualification, purse forfeiture and the removal of his Kentucky Derby entry. However, the Times said California regulators waited until April 26, nine days before the Kentucky Derby, to inform Bob Baffert, Justify’s Hall of Fame trainer.
Baffert requested a second sample be tested by an independent lab, and it confirmed the results on May 8 — three days after Justify won the Kentucky Derby.
The racing board then diverted from its normal course of action, according to the Times, which cited emails and internal memorandums it obtained. Rather than filing a complaint and holding a hearing, nothing happened until Aug. 23, four months after the failed test and two months after Justify had completed his Triple Crown run by winning the Belmont Stakes.
The board’s executive director, Rick Baedeker, took the unprecedented path of presenting the case directly to the board’s commissioners, who voted unanimously to drop the case, according to the Times.
The board reportedly decided that the test results could have come from Justify eating contaminated food. However, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s former drug lab chief, Rick Sams, told the Times that the amount of scopolamine in Justify’s system suggested it “has to come from intentional intervention.”
In addition, the California board’s medical director said of scopolamine in 2016 that the chance of “getting a positive from environmental contamination is rather low.”
Scopolamine can help clear a horse’s airway and optimize its heart rate to make it more efficient, Sams told the Times.
An attorney who said he represents Baffert wrote a letter to the newspaper challenging its reporting. W. Craig Robertson III wrote that Justify was not intentionally given scopolamine and that the horse passed any drug testing at the sites of the Triple Crown races.
Baffert, who did not respond to the Times’ requests for comment, is expected to address reporters on Thursday.
Two months after dismissing the Justify case, the California board changed the penalty for a failed scopolamine test from a disqualification to a fine and a possible suspension.
“We take seriously the integrity of horse racing in California and are committed to implementing the highest standards of safety and accountability for all horses, jockeys and participants,” the California Horse Racing Board said in a statement.
A CHRB spokesman said the organization would have a further statement Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.