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.”

Forte is slight 5-2 favorite for Belmont Stakes over stablemate Tapit Trice

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Forte is finally getting a crack at running in a Triple Crown race. The colt, who was scratched the day of the Kentucky Derby, is the early favorite for the Belmont Stakes.

Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion, was made the slight 5-2 favorite for the grueling 1 1/2-mile race.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt will break from the No. 6 post in the nine-horse field at Belmont Park. Pletcher’s other horse, Tapit Trice, is the 3-1 second choice and drew the No. 2 post.

Forte was the early Derby favorite, but was scratched by Kentucky officials the morning of the May 6 race because of a bruised right foot. He was on a vets’ list that kept him out of the Preakness, but has since come off it.

“He’s doing great, he’s training really well. He hasn’t missed any training,” said Mike Repole, co-owner of Forte. “We still think this is the best 3-year-old in the crop and he’s going to prove that.”

Mage, the Kentucky Derby winner, is skipping the Triple Crown finale after finishing third in the Preakness on May 20.

Angel of Empire is the third choice at 7-2. He finished third in the Derby and is one of three horses in the race trained by Brad Cox.

National Treasure, the Preakness winner trained by Bob Baffert, is 5-1. He drew the No. 4 post.

Arcangelo is 8-1 and will break from the No. 3 post. He is trained by Jena Antonucci, who will try to become the first woman trainer to win the Belmont.

The other four entries are listed at double-digit odds.

The Belmont field, in post position order, with jockeys and odds:

Tapit Shoes, Jose Ortiz, 20-1; Tapit Trice, Luis Saez, 3-1, Arcangelo, Javier Castellano, 8-1; National Treasure, 5-1, John Velazquez; Il Miracolo, 30-1, Marcos Meneses; Forte, 5-2, Irad Ortiz Jr.; Hit Show, 10-1, Manny Franco; Angel of Empire, Flavien Prat, 7-2; Red Route One, Joel Rosario, 15-1.

Preakness winner National Treasure has final workout for Belmont Stakes

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Preakness winner National Treasure breezed five furlongs in his final workout for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes this weekend.

Working on the main track at Belmont Park with exercise rider Erick Garcia aboard, National Treasure was timed in 59.55 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1:11.20 and seven furlongs in 1:25.20. It was the second workout on the track for the Bob Baffert-trained colt.

“He worked very well this morning,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant. “It’s a big track and you can find yourself lost out there. Erick did an excellent job working him and now we’re just waiting for the race.”

National Treasure was fourth in the Santa Anita Derby before the Preakness on May 20.

Trainer Steve Asmussen’s Red Route One also posted his final work for the final jewel of the Triple Crown, breezing a half-mile in 50.20 seconds over Belmont Park’s dirt training track.

“I thought he went beautiful,” said Toby Sheets, Asmussen’s Belmont-based assistant. “It was nice and fluid and he came back with good energy. I’m very happy with him. We wanted to be out on the track before it got really busy.”

Red Route One finished fourth in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course, almost five lengths behind National Treasure.

Kentucky Derby winner Mage is not running in the Belmont Stakes.