Arkansas officials hear Baffert’s appeal of drug positives

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, fined and suspended last year by Arkansas racing officials for a pair of drug positives, sat through nearly nine hours of testimony Monday on the first day of his appeal hearing.

Besides being fined, Baffert was hit with a 15-day suspension by stewards at Oaklawn Park after both Charlatan and Gamine tested positive for the painkiller lidocaine following their wins on May 2, 2020. Charlatan won a division of the $1 million Arkansas Derby, while Gamine won another race that day. Both horses were disqualified and stripped of their purse money.

“It’s been hanging over his head for almost a year now,” Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, told Arkansas Racing Commission members. “We shouldn’t be here today. This case should have been dismissed a long time ago.”

Baffert left his Southern California base to attend the hearing amid preparing to run Medina Spirit in the May 1 Kentucky Derby, a race he has won a record-tying six times including last year.

Lidocaine, a widely used anesthetic in racing, is considered a Class 2 drug by the Association of Racing Commissioners International and use of it carries a penalty of a 15- to 60-day suspension and a fine of $500 to $1,000 for a first offense. The drug is not a banned substance; it has a legal threshold of 20 picograms. A picogram is a trillionth of a gram.

Evidence presented Monday showed the level of lidocaine found by ARC testing in Gamine was 185 picograms, while Charlatan had 46 picograms.

ARC attorney Byron Freeland said Baffert had exercised his right for split-sample testing and the trainer chose the Ken L. Maddy Laboratory at UC Davis.

“The results came back with a higher concentration of lidocaine than at the ARC lab,” Freeland said.

The Maddy lab found 294 picograms in Gamine’s blood sample and 86.8 picograms in Charlatan’s blood sample, according to testimony from Benjamin Moeller, who processed the split-samples.

In his opening comments, Robertson asserted, “There were a myriad of errors and violations that were made.”

He cited a broken chain of custody involving the horses’ specimens, Charlatan being misidentified as a gelding instead of a colt, the initial clearance of Charlatan’s samples, the ARC’s lab illegally subcontracting testing to another lab, and breach of confidentiality rules after the positive test results appeared in media reports.

Baffert and his attorney have contended the failed tests were the result of inadvertent contamination because of a pain patch worn by his assistant Jimmy Barnes, who saddled both horses. Barnes has chronic pain after previously breaking his pelvis.

The patch he used contained trace amounts of lidocaine. The drug was transferred from Barnes’ hands through the application of tongue ties on both horses, Baffert’s representatives have said.

The stewards suspended Baffert for violating Rule 1233, which states that a trainer shall ultimately be responsible for the condition of any horse that is entered regardless of the acts of any third parties.

Freeland called nine witnesses, including ARC steward Bernie Hettel, ARC veterinarian Joseph Lokanc, and employees of the two laboratories involved in testing of the horses’ post-race blood and urine samples.

Hettel said he informed Baffert of the positive tests and testified, “He was genuinely surprised at those results.”

Freeland had employees in the track’s test barn explain in detail how they gather post-race samples from the top three finishers in stakes races and secure the specimens for transit to off-site labs.

Julie Hagihara of ALS-Truesdail Laboratories in Irvine, California, admitted she made “clerical errors” involving Charlatan under questioning by Freeland. She said she misidentified Charlatan as a gelding instead of a colt and wrongly told the ARC that the horse’s samples had been cleared.

“As soon as we noticed the error, we issued an amended report the same day,” she said via video.

Lokanc and some others who testified said the gender of a horse makes no difference in testing for lidocaine.

Hagihara told Robertson that she supervised the subcontracting of the samples to Industrial Laboratories in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, after ALS-Truesdail lost its accreditation by the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium.

Petra Hartmann, director of drug testing services at Industrial Labs, said “it would have saved time” if the samples had gone directly to her lab instead of first being given to ALS-Truesdail. Questioned about the chain of custody, she said, “As long as the cups of urine aren’t opened, there’s no risk of contamination.”

Charlatan’s owners lost $300,000 in purse money; Gamine’s owners forfeited $36,000.

The administrative hearing resumes Tuesday at the racetrack in Hot Springs. The ARC plans to call another witness before Baffert’s attorney presents his defense, including three witnesses.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.