On June 9, 2018, a colt named Justify thundered home to win the 150th run of the Belmont Stakes and win the Triple Crown of horse racing, one of the sport's most celebrated achievements.
It was the perfect ending to an unlikely journey for a talented horse, its versatile owner group, and Hall of Fame coach Bob Baffert.
Few people knew the secret that Baffert had with him that day in the winning circle: Justify had failed a drug test weeks before the first race in the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. That meant Justify could not have run in derby if the rules of the sport had been followed.
Only a handful of race officials and people associated with Justify knew about the failed drug test that took place on April 7, 2018, after Justify won the Santa Anita Derby. He was tested positive for the drug scopolamine, a banned substance that, according to veterinarians, can improve performance, especially in the amount found in the horse.
Justify was undefeated at the time, but had to First or second place in the Santa Anita Derby to qualify for the Kentucky Derby on May 5th. While the colt won in Santa Anita, the failed drug test meant the disqualification and the loss of both the prize money and the entry into the Kentucky Derby came with the victory.
None of this, however, happened.
T Recent Justify, Emails, and Internal Memoranda in the Justify case show California regulators have waited nearly three weeks before the Kentucky Derby was nine days away to notify Baffert that his derby favorite had failed a doping test.
Four months later, and more than two months after Justify's celebration, Baffert and the New York horse owners celebrated their triple crown victory, the board shut down the investigation during a closed-door session. It was decided with little evidence that the positive test could be a result of Justify eating contaminated food. The Chamber unanimously voted in favor of dismissing the case. In October, the penalty for a scopolamine injury was changed to the lower penalty for a fine and possible suspension.
Baffert did not respond to several attempts to contact him for this article.
Rick Baedeker, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, acknowledged that timing was a delicate case. He said the regulators had been cautious, as scopolamine could be found in jimsonian weeds that could grow wildly, where manure is present and accidentally mixed with feed, and that "pollution" is often used as a protective measure.
"One day we might land in the Supreme Court," he said.
"There was no way to prepare an investigation report before the Kentucky Derby," he added. Well, that's not impossible, it's not impossible, it would have been careless and reckless for us to tell an investigator what would normally take you two months to complete in five days, eight days, we did not want that . "
The Times reviewed documents contain no evidence of pressure or manipulation by Justify's owners. Horse racing is unique.
California Horse Racing Board Chairman Chuck Winner has an interest in horses trained by Baffert. Two other board members employ coaches and jockeys who regulate .
Justify's owners included sports estate agents such as WinStar Farm of Kentucky, owned by Kenny Troutt, a billionaire full-blooded commercial breeder; the mysterious China Horse Club, whose 200 members from mainland China and beyond have paid US $ 1 million to join; and a mutual fund for horses with ties to billionaire George Soros. Baffert is America's outstanding coach . He has won the Kentucky Derby five times. In 2015, he trained American Pharoah, the first horse to win the 1978 Triple Crown after Affirmed.
With Justify Baffert faced a late-developing colt who was not as a 2 -year-old at the start. The last horse to win the derby without starting as a two-year-old was Apollo in 1882.
As usual, blood and urine samples from Justify and 34 other horses were sent to the Santa Anita Derby on the day of the Launched, shipped on April 10 to a lab at the University of California, Davis.
The lab sent notice on April 18, two and a half weeks before the Kentucky Derby, that Justify tested positive for scopolamine, which is commonly used to treat stomach or bowel problems such as nausea and muscle cramps in humans.
Horse racing has a long tradition of coaches using drugs to gain a competitive advantage. Drug tests have detected frog and cobra venom, Viagra, cocaine, heart medications and steroids.
Scopolamine cases resulted for decades in disqualifications purses, fines and suspensions.
Dr. Rick Sams, who ran the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Drug Laboratory from 2011 to 2018, said that as a bronchodilator, scopolamine could purify a horse's respiratory tract and optimize a horse's heart rate, making the horse more efficient. He said the amount of scopolamine found in Justify – 300 nanograms per milliliter – was too high and suggested that the drug should improve performance.
"I think it must come from a deliberate intervention," he said.
Baffert and other coaches in California were aware that scopolamine is a banned substance and occasionally occurs in Jimson Weed, although the plant's strong smell and bad taste make it unpleasant. In November 2016, Dr. Rick Arthur, the medical director of the Equine Racing Board, warned the riders about looking for red grass in feed and hay, and said a positive test for the drug was "totally avoidable."
"Now, the likelihood that our current practices will detect a positive due to environmental pollution is rather low," Dr. Arthur at the time.
On April 20, two days after taking note of Justify's positive test, Dr. Arthur wrote in an e-mail to Baedeker, the executive director of the board, his lawyers and his preliminary investigator, that the case "would be handled differently than usual ." He asked for further testing and verification of the data.
In an interview, Baedeker said on behalf of Dr. Arthur, that he thought that Dr. Arthur must thoroughly conduct the investigation.
Other doping cases have quickly permeated the California racing bureaucracy. In March, a co-worker of a trainer, William Morey, was caught in the surveillance when he gave a horse a prohibited drug. Lab tests were performed, an investigation completed and a complaint filed and published 28 days later.
On the morning of April 26, four days before Justify was to send for the Kentucky Derby to Louisville, Kentucky, Baffert received a notification that had Justify tested positive for scopolamine. As was his right, Baffert asked to send another sample from this test to an approved independent laboratory.
It was sent on May 1, four days before the derby, and this lab confirmed the result on May 8. ] (Until then, Justify had won the Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown.) On the same day, Baedeker told board members that Justify tested positive for scopolamine.
"The CHRB The Investigation Department will file a complaint and hold a hearing," he told them in a memorandum received from The Times.
Nobody ever filed a complaint and the hearing never took place.
Instead, on August 23, 2018, more than four months after the failed test, Baedeker stated that he was presenting the Justify case in a private executive meeting directly to the California Horse Racing Board representative, which he had never done in his five-and-a-half year term , The Chamber unanimously voted not to pursue the case against Baffert .
Without a formal complaint, Baedeker prohibited under State law the detailed discussion of evidence of environmental pollution. In a written answer, Baedeker said that a handful of other horses may have been contaminated, but he provided little evidence.
"The other horses had the presence of scopolamine, but were below the screening level and were therefore not positive tests," he said in a written response since December 26 at Santa Anita Park due to the death of 30 racehorses Bombardment. The Los Angeles District Attorney investigates the deaths, and the legislature has held hearings and considered changes to improve the handling of horses and compliance.
Californian laws do not prohibit the appointment of active horse owners to the Sports Inspectorate. Apart from the relationship between the chairman and coach of Baffert, the deputy chairman of the board, Madeline Auerbach, and Dennis Alfieri, another commissioner, coach and jockey in California.
Joe Gorajec, former chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International a trade group of industry commissioners, said the system was doomed to fail in California and other states where regulators deal with humans, which they belong to the police.
"Minimal Prohibitions Should Exclude Active Horse Owners, trainers, breeders and jockeys, or other persons earning revenue from the business, serve a commission," said Gorajec, who was executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission. "Commissioners should be banned from betting in the state where they serve."
In the months following the decision to discontinue the lawsuit against Justify, the racing board decided to reduce the punishment for a violation of scopolamine due to disqualification and forfeiture of purse to only a fine and a suspension ,
Baedeker said regulators had considered a shift to the lower standard. He said that it is planned to appeal to the lower rating if the matter is due to be heard.
Baffert has survived earlier governmental proceedings in California.
After the death of seven horses in his care over a 16-month period, in 2013 he was told by the authorities that he had given each horse a thyroid hormone in his barn, without checking if any of them had thyroid problems would have.
Baffert told the investigators that he thought the drug would help build his horses, although the drug is generally associated with weight loss. In this case, the Chamber's report found no evidence that C.H.R.B. Rules or regulations were violated.
Retired in Justify your companions three times a day. Coolmore, the international breeding company that has acquired Justify's breeding rights, will receive up to $ 150,000 or $ 450,000 per day in a five-month breeding season for a mating. This means that Coolmore has already recouped its $ 60 million investment.
Justify is currently in Australia. The owners have their mares hoping to get the perfect seed from the perfect racehorse.