Racing board seeks DQ of Justify in Santa Anita Derby

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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.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.