Baffert: Justify’s positive test came from contaminated food

AP Photo
7 Comments

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert denied giving 2018 Triple Crown winning horse Justify a banned substance that caused a positive test prior to last year’s Kentucky Derby and blamed the result on contaminated food.

Baffert said in a statement Thursday that he “unequivocally” rejects the implication he’d give Justify or any other horse Scopolamine, which the colt tested positive for in April 2018. The New York Times reported Justify tested positive for the substance after winning the Santa Anita Derby and that the California Horse Racing Board did not adequately investigate the matter.

Justify was allowed to run in the Kentucky Derby a month later and went on to become horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner.

“Damn shame this great horse, connections and me have to be put through all this,” Baffert said in a separate text message to The Associated Press. “It was obvious environmental contamination. It’s been a known problem in California.”

Attorney W. Craig Robertson also wrote a letter addressed to the Times defending Baffert and saying the California racing board did the correct thing by not pursuing a lengthy investigation. Baffert and Robertson each pointed out Justify was found to have a trace amount of Scopolamine in his system and said that can come from jimson weed, which grows wild in California.

Baffert said Justify passed drug tests in Kentucky, Maryland and New York on the way to the Triple Crown and called on those states’ testing agencies to “immediately release information related to Justify’s test results” there. Justify did not run another race after winning the Triple Crown and was retired.

Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, which co-owns Justify, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. WinStar Farm released Baffert’s statement.

Baffert trained the only two Triple Crown winners in the past three decades: Justify in 2018 and American Pharoah in 2015.

“Justify is one of the finest horses I’ve had the privilege of training and by any standard is one of the greatest of all time,” Baffert said. “I am proud to stand by his record and my own.”

While defending his own actions, Baffert said he had no input into or influence on decisions made by the California board, which came under fire for treating this situation differently from past precedent. Upon notification of the positive test result, Robertson told the board to deal with him and not Baffert from that point forward.

“Given all the foregoing facts, I was confident that Mr. Baffert would ultimately prevail if the CHRB pursued the matter,” Robertson wrote. “This left the CHRB with two choices – either pursue a frivolous case that had no merit at great taxpayer expense, or exercise reason and common sense and decide to take no further action.”

In a news release Thursday, Animal Wellness Action executive director Marty Irby called for drug testing to be “conducted and overseen by impartial operators and not by industry players with a vested interest in looking the other way.” The Times reported the chairman of the California board owns an interest in horses trained by Baffert.

The California Horse Racing Board said in a statement emailed to The AP: “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.” A CHRB spokesman said Thursday that it didn’t have anything else to add.

Appeals court strikes down federal horseracing rules act

hisa
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW ORLEANS — Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, or HISA, is “facially unconstitutional.”

The authority created by the act was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit – in two rulings issued Friday – ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject HISA regulations, but it can’t modify them. And the authority can reject proposed modifications.

Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act – including the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states – that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.

“A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.

The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King and Kurt Engelhardt, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging HISA in a different case.

The chair of the horseracing authority’s board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit court of the Supreme Court.

“If today’s ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until January 10, 2023 at the earliest,” Charles Scheeler said in an email. “We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing, including the launch of HISA’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program on January 1, 2023.”

The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. “Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission’s limited oversight was sufficient,” Irby said in an email.

Among the subjects covered by the authority’s rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation, and the reporting of training and veterinary records.

Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to scandals in the industry involving medication and the treatment of horses.

Duncan wrote that in declaring HISA unconstitutional, “we do not question Congress’s judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling HISA a “federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing.”

Fractional interest in Flightline sells for $4.6 million

flightline horse
Silas Walker/Getty Images
1 Comment

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keeneland says a 2.5% fractional interest in Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Flightline has sold for $4.6 million during a special auction before the start of its November Breeding Stock Sale.

Brookdale Farm’s Freddy Seitz signed the ticket for an undisclosed client, the track announced in a release. The sale comes a day after ownership of the 4-year-old son of Tapit retired the unbeaten colt following his record 8\-length victory in Saturday’s $6 million, Grade 1 Classic at Keeneland. Flightline likely locked up Horse of the Year honors with his fourth Grade 1 victory in six starts by a combined victory margin of 71 lengths – dominance that has drawn comparisons to legendary Triple Crown champion Secretariat.

Flightline will begin his breeding career next year at Lane’s End Farms in Versailles, Kentucky, but a stud fee has yet to be determined. West Point Thoroughbreds, part of the bay colt’s ownership, offered the fractional interest. Seitz said the buyer wanted to “make a big splash” and get more involved in the business.

“With a special horse like (Flightline) all you can do is get involved and then just hope for the best,” Seitz said in the release.

“There has never been a horse that has done what he has done for however many years, back to Secretariat. You just have to pay up and get involved, and this is kind of what he’s thinking.”