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.

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.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports
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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.