The New York Times reported on Sept. 11 that Justify, the Triple Crown Winner in 2018, failed a drug test that took place before the Kentucky Derby. The failed test came after his win at the 2018 Santa Anita Derby (G1). Bob Baffert, who is Justify’s trainer, along with others, is saying that the positive test was because of contamination.
In the New York Times report, it stated that Justify tested positive for scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby. Scopolamine is a prohibited substance, and it normally would result in some type of suspension.
The California Horse Racing Board has been criticized by some for the way they handled the manner. They failed to confirm the results for over a month. Also, the regulator failed to file a public complaint, and he took part in private meetings to go over the issue and make decisions.
Baffert stayed silent at first, but he went public last Thursday. He believes that the test results were positive due to contamination.
“I’ve never administered that drug or had it administered to one of my horses,” Baffert said. “I wouldn’t even know how it would come — what form it would come in.”
On Nov. 14, 2016, the CHRB issued a warning stating that jimson weed had been found in bedding straw. Jimson weed sometimes contains scopolamine, which means it could’ve been responsible for the drug test results.
“It is certainly not a crisis, but this weed can contain scopolamine, which is a prohibited substance,” CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur said.
The biggest criticism is being leveled at how the matter was handled. Traditionally, this failed drug test would result in a disqualification of a horse, but this wasn’t the case for Justify. The board decided to close the inquiry four months after the test results, and they did so after having a closed-door meeting.
Rick Baedeker, the executive director of the CHRB, stated that the inquiry was ended because they believed it was most likely contamination from jimson weed. They said that it could have gotten into the food supply.
Baffert holds the same view as Baedeker.
“We’re always getting notices to be aware of that stuff, but looking for it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It’s tough, especially when you bed on straw,” Baffert said. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never had one of these before, but I’ve seen it happen to other trainers out there. You’re holding your breath that it doesn’t happen to you, but we’re sitting ducks. Contamination is hard to control.”
A report was compiled by Dr. Rick Sams. He was the one running the drug testing lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission between 2011-18. His report stated that scopolamine acts as a bronchodilator, and it clears a horse’s airway. This can improve the horse’s heart rate and efficiency. Dr. Rick Sams also reported that the test found 300 nanograms per milliliter, which is an excessive number.