Arkansas racing officials vote not to suspend Bob Baffert

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Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert on Tuesday successfully appealed his 15-day suspension to the Arkansas Racing Commission, allowing the six-time Kentucky Derby winner to resume preparations to run Medina Spirit in next weekend’s Derby.

Baffert was fined and suspended last year by Arkansas stewards for a pair of drug positives after Charlatan and Gamine tested positive for the painkiller lidocaine following their wins at Oaklawn Park on May 2. Charlatan won a division of the $1 million Arkansas Derby, while Gamine won another race. Both horses were disqualified and stripped of their purse money.

After 13 1/2 hours of testimony from 14 witnesses over two days, the commission voted unanimously to reduce Baffert’s fines to $5,000 per horse, restore the horses’ placings and purse money, and overturn his suspension.

“There’s abundant evidence that the horses were exposed to lidocaine,” Michael Post, one of the commissioners, said before deliberations began. “I trust our labs and I trust our people. But there was also abundant evidence that it would be below what is performance-enhancing.”

Baffert expressed relief afterward when reached by phone.

“It’s been an emotional drain. I’m happy with the results,” he told The Associated Press. “I’m happy that the racing commissioners listened to all the people we brought in there. I want to thank them.”

Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, told the AP that a larger issue in racing involves threshold levels in drug testing.

“We really ought to set thresholds at levels where they have some sort of pharmacological effect on a horse and effect on the race instead of what we’re doing now, which is setting levels on how sensitive we can get our testing,” he said by phone. “When you’re picking up substances at a picogram level, there are so many opportunities for contamination it creates a problem.”

A picogram is a trillionth of a gram.

Baffert called the two-day hearing “very educational.”

“I didn’t realize how easily you can get contaminated,” he told the AP. “The conversation needs to be revisited on the testing procedures. You can just ruin somebody’s reputation and their livelihood. I’m just worried that it can happen again unless they change something. Hopefully, the science will get better.”

Baffert testified in his own defense for about 30 minutes during the administrative hearing that was shown live online.

“I really don’t feel we did anything wrong,” Baffert told the commission. “We know for sure we did not administer lidocaine; it came from somewhere. I wanted to clear my name. We don’t operate that way. I’m very proud of my operation. We would never take some kind of edge.”

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.

Evidence presented Monday showed the level of lidocaine found by ARC testing in Gamine was 185 picograms, while Charlatan had 46 picograms. The drug has a legal threshold of 20 picograms.

Baffert and Robertson 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.

Baffert said he phoned Barnes in Southern California to inform him of the hearing’s outcome.

“He was just so relieved because he felt so bad,” the trainer said. “It was hard on him. He wanted to quit.”

The Arkansas stewards had 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.

“I’m responsible for anything I have control over,” Baffert testified. “I don’t know if we’ll ever know what happened.”

Charlatan’s owners will receive $300,000 in purse money; Gamine’s owners will get $36,000.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Qatar Prix de Arc de Triomphe
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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.

Royal silks return as King Charles III’s horse finishes 2nd

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SALISBURY, England – The famous royal silks returned to British horse racing with the first runner under the ownership of King Charles III finishing a distant second at Salisbury.

Educator was the first horse to wear the purple, red and gold silks since the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 8.

Her oldest son and heir, Charles, has taken on the royal stable and Educator was sent off as the 11-10 favorite under jockey Tom Marquand for the Radcliffe & Co Handicap.

Okeechobee won by 4 \ lengths in the four-horse race.

The queen’s last runner was Improvise, who was beaten narrowly at Epsom on the day the monarch died at her Balmoral estate in Scotland.