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Triple Crown winner Justify returns to Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Sam Upshaw Jr., Courier Journal, Courier Journal

One of the greatest runs in horse racing history may have been tainted.

According to a report from The New York Times, Triple Crown-winning thoroughbred Justify failed a drug test in the weeks leading up to Kentucky Derby 144 but was still allowed to race in all three events, winning the Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes en route to the crown jewel of horse racing.

The test, which was taken on April 7, 2018, after the colt won the Santa Anita Derby, in California should have triggered an automatic disqualification from the Derby under the current rules. The first notice of the positive test was sent on April 18.

The California Horse Racing Board took months to confirm the results of the test and made several decisions in secret to drop the case and soften the penalty for any horse with the substance, scopolamine, that was found to have been in Justify’s system, according to the story.

Related: The cover-up for Justify looks shameful, no matter how it’s framed

More coverage: Justify’s Triple Crown was controversial even before the drug test

Justify, ridden by Mike Smith, wins the 144th Kentucky

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The pack makes its way through the first turn of the

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

Justify leads the pack as he approaches the finish

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Justify pulls away from Good Magic in the stretch run

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Fans react to Justify and rider Mike Smith winning

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The field head toward the first turn in the running

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Good Magic comes around the outside of turn three during

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, heads into the first

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The horses break from the gate at the start of the

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The horses head into the first turn of the Kentucky

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Coming around the second turn, Justify led the race,

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

Horses break around the first turn during the running

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Mike Smith and Justify pull away from Jose Ortiz on

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Justify, ridden by Mike Smith, and the rest of the

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

Horses leave the starting gate for Derby 144 at Churchill

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Horses leave the starting line at Churchill Downs for

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

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Horses leave the starting gate for Derby 144 at Churchill

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

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Justify pulls away from Good Magic in the stretch run

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

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Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the 144th running

Horses leave the starting gate for Derby 144 at Churchill

Horses leave the starting line at Churchill Downs for

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Mike Smith aboard Justify greets the Winners Circle

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Horses head into the first turn of the Kentucky Derby

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The field head toward the first turn in the running

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Justify out front after winning the 2src18 Kentucky Derby.

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A member of Justify's ownership team celebrated as

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Mike Smith looks skyward aboard Justify as the pair

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Mike Smith smiles aboard Justify as the pair are photographed

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Winning trainer Bob Baffert, left, congtratulates a

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Winning jockey Mike Smith sprays champagne from the

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Winning jockey Mike Smith sprays champagne from the

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Mike Smith atop Justify wins the 144th Kentucky Derby.

Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, leads the field

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, leads the field

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, leads the field

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, leads the field

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, heads down the stretch

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, heads down the stretch

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, heads down the stretch

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, heads down the stretch

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, heads down the stretch

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Justify, ridden by Mike Smith, wins the 144th Kentucky

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, celebrates after

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, celebrates after

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, celebrates after

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, celebrates after

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Jockey Mike Smith, riding Justify, celebrates after

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Horses and their jockeys make their way around turn

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Jockey Mike Smith reacts after winning the 144th running

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Jockey Mike Smith waves to fans after winning the 144th

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Jockey Mike Smith reacts after winning the 144th running

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Jockey Mike Smith reacts after winning the 144th running

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Jockey Mike Smith reacts after winning the 144th running

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Jockey Mike Smith reacts after winning the 144th running

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Jockey Mike Smith reacts after winning the 144th running

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Jockey Mike Smith reacts after winning the 144th running

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2src18 Kentucky Derby winning jockey Mike Smith celebrates

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Jockey Mike Smith reacts after winning the 144th running

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2src18 Kentucky Derby winning jockey Mike Smith celebrates

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 Trainer Bob Baffert, right, greets 2src18 Kentucky Derby

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Trainer Bob Baffert, center, gets congratulated in

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Trainer Bob Baffert couldn't resist touching the winner's

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Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, was notified of the positive test on April 26, 2018, and asked, per his due process, that an independent laboratory test another sample. It was sent out on May 1, 2018, four days before the Derby, and confirmed on May 8.

The board was notified of the second positive test of scopolamine, a substance that can be used “to clear a horse’s airway and optimize its heart rate” according to the report. The amount of the substance, which also can be found in jimson weed and sometimes can be ingested by horses while feeding on hay, was excessive.

On the same day, May 8, the California board was notified of the results and released a statement saying “The C.H.R.B. investigations unit will issue a complaint and a hearing will be scheduled,” but the board never filed the complained and the hearing never happened.

Earlier: Triple Crown winner Justify gets Horse of the Year at Eclipse Awards

On Aug. 23, 2018, the board met in an executive session and in a unanimous vote, chose not to proceed with the complaint and hearing against Baffert. 

The story states that reviewed documents did not reveal any evidence “of pressure or tampering by Justify’s owners. Horse racing, however, is uniquely insular.”

By the time the extended process concluded, Justify had won the Triple Crown.  

According to NBC Sports Tim Layden, Baffert will release a statement Thursday morning on the story. 

Exchanged texts with Bob Baffert about the @nytimes Justify bombshell. Baffert said he will have a statement tomorrow morning. I do not know what he will say in that statement.

— Tim Layden (@ByTimLayden) September 12, 2019

Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers was unavailable for comment Wednesday night.

Justify won the Derby by 2 1/2 lengths over Good Magic with a time of 2: 04.20 with jockey Mike Smith aboard.

Jason Frakes contributed to this story.