LOS ANGELES — The California Horse Racing Board has voted to proceed with a complaint seeking the disqualification of Justify from his victory in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby based on laboratory findings that show his post-race sample tested positive for scopolamine.
The racing board won’t file a complaint against Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert because of what it called “substantial evidence” that the scopolamine resulted from environmental contamination from jimson weed. Baffert had denied giving the horse scopolamine, and blamed the contamination on jimson weed, which grows wild in California.
The board met in closed session last week and announced its decision Thursday.
The New York Times first reported in September 2019 that Justify tested positive for the substance and that the racing board — behind closed doors — opted not to take action.
The hearing for disqualification is part of a settlement agreement between the board and Ruis Racing LLC, the owner of Bolt d’Oro, the horse that finished second to Justify in the 2018 race.
Mick Ruis, who also trained Bolt d’Oro, sued the board earlier this year. He alleged it intentionally failed to discharge its public duty when the board hid and later dismissed Justify’s positive drug test. His lawsuit sought to have the board set aside its decision to dismiss Justify’s positive test and to order the $1 million purse money to be redistributed.
Justify earned $600,000 for his victory in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby. Bolt d’Oro received $200,000.
Justify was allowed to continue racing and won the 2018 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the 13th Triple Crown winner in history. He was then retired.
The racing board is also seeking the disqualification of Hoppertunity, winner of the Tokyo City Cup at Santa Anita in April 2018, based on lab findings that his post-race sample tested positive for scopolamine. His case is not the subject of current litigation. Baffert also trained Hoppertunity.
The CHRB has discretion in filing a complaint against a trainer for a medication positive. In certain cases where environmental contamination occurred, the board has chosen not to do so.
“Given that the Justify and Hoppertunity positives occurred over two years ago and at most the CHRB would only seek a warning, the CHRB chooses not to file complaints against Mr. Baffert in these matters,” the board said in a statement.
In both cases, the racing board filed complaints for redistribution of the purse money. Hearings in the cases are scheduled for Sept. 20.
Scopolamine can be used to treat motion sickness in humans and in limited equine cases can relieve intestinal spasms, though it can be toxic to horses. It has been nationally downgraded from a class 3 to a class 4 level substance in horse racing.
The Association of Racing Commissioners International’s Uniform Classification of Foreign Substances guidelines say class 4 drugs “comprise primarily therapeutic medications routinely used in racehorses (that) may influence performance but generally have a more limited ability to do so.”