Two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert on Thursday denied giving Justify a banned medication.
“I unequivocally reject any implication that scopolamine was ever intentionally administered to Justify, or any of my horses,” Baffert said in a statement. “Justify is one of the finest horses I’ve had the privilege of training and by any standard is one of the greatest of all time. I am proud to stand by his record, and my own.”
Baffert blamed environmental contamination for a positive finding for the chemical, which is found in Jimson weed. He also said he had no “input into, or influence on, the decisions made by the California Horse Racing Board.”
An attorney representing Baffert also said Thursday that a New York Times article reporting 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify failed a postrace drug test prior to the Kentucky Derby is “extremely disappointing” and “long on sensationalism.”
The newspaper reported Wednesday that Justify, trained by Baffert, tested positive for the drug scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby, which could have kept him out of the Kentucky Derby.
Justify went on to win the Kentucky Derby on his way to claiming the Triple Crown. Baffert also won a Triple Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah.
W. Craig Robertson III said in his statement Thursday Baffert “conducts himself with honesty, class and character” and he and horse racing deserve better.
“There was never any intentional administration of scopolamine to Justify and any insinuation in your article otherwise is not only defamatory, but it also defies logic and common sense,” Robertson stated. “No trainer would ever intentionally administer scopolamine to a horse. It has a depressant effect and would do anything but enhance the performance of a horse.”
Scopolamine can be used to clear a horse’s airway and improve its heart rate, the New York Times reported in its article.
Robertson further stated that the drug in question is an environmental contaminant that is found in a naturally growing substance in areas where hay and straw are produced in California.
Justify testified positive for 300 nanograms of the drug, according to the Times. This is just a billionth of a gram, according to Robertson.
“This is one of the problems with modern day testing,” Robertson stated. “It has become so sensitive that we can now detect trace amounts of substances that are only consistent with environmental contamination — not intentional administration — and clearly have no pharmacological effect on a thousand pound animal.”
The horse went on to pass drug tests in Kentucky, Maryland and New York during his Triple Crown run, Robertson stated.
Baffert, in his statement, called on racing authorities in Kentucky, Maryland and New York, where the three races were held, to release Justify’s test results.
Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery stated Thursday afternoon the Louisville track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had no knowledge of any positive tests in advance of the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
“We do know that all pre- and post-race tests for 2018 Kentucky Derby participants came back clean, including Justify,” Flannery stated. “In advance of our race each year, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission conducts pre-race out-of-competition testing for every Kentucky Derby starter and all starters’ results were clean. After the race, the top finishers are tested for a myriad of banned substances and the results for all were clean.”
The New York Times article claimed Baffert knew of the positive test prior to the Kentucky Derby.
A statement released by the California Horse Racing Board to multiple media outlets said, “We take seriously the integrity of horse racing in California and are committed to implementing the highest standards of safety and accountability for all horses, jockeys and participants.”
The board took more than a month to confirm the drug results, the Times reported. Instead of filing a public decision about its findings, the board made private decisions that led to Justify being able to compete in the Triple Crown races.
The decision to not pursue the matter was made by the board and Baffert was not involved, his attorney alleged.
“The CHRB made the wise decision and should be commended, instead of attacked, for doing so,” Robertson stated. “The CHRB did right by all parties, including the industry, in this case.”