Last year on Arkansas Derby day, two of Bob Baffert’s horses, including Division 1 winner Charlatan, tested positive for lidocaine and were subsequently disqualified. Baffert was fined and suspended. Yesterday, the Arkansas Racing Commission lifted that suspension and restored his horses’ wins. By doing so, Mr. Baffert’s earnings were also restored – some $330,000, which dwarfs the $10,000 he paid in fines. This, of course, should come as no surprise to anyone who follows racing, for this is, as Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier Journal suggests, Teflon Bob.
Bob Baffert, again. The superstar trainer with 15 Triple-Crown-races wins is back in the hot seat for drug positives. Last fall, you may recall, The New York Times reported that Justify, Baffert’s 2018 “champion,” failed a drug test in a qualifying race in California before going on to win the Kentucky Derby that year. As the Times said, “That meant Justify should not have run in the Derby, if the sport’s rules were followed.” But California officials dragged their feet for months, allowing Baffert time to win his second TC in four years. Eventually, the CHRB cleared Baffert. Its reasoning (and Baffert’s defense): “environmental contamination” (jimson weed in feed/straw).
(On that determination, the Times’ Joe Drape wrote: “Baffert has denied any wrongdoing, but the quantity of the drug found in Justify suggested that it was present not because of contamination in his feed or his bedding but rather because of an effort to enhance performance, according to Dr. Rick Sams, who ran the drug lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission from 2011 to 2018.”)
Now, word comes that two more of Baffert’s horses – once again, elite ones – tested positive for overages of lidocaine at Oaklawn in May. Baffert’s defense, again: “environmental contamination.” His lawyer, Craig Robertson III, explains (BloodHorse):
“Even though lidocaine is a lawful, widely available therapeutic medication, it was never intentionally administered to either Gamine or Charlatan. When test results indicated that trace [questionable word choice] amounts of lidocaine were found in both horses after their respective races on May 2, Bob Baffert and his team were shocked. … After investigation, it is our belief that both Gamine and Charlatan were unknowingly and innocently exposed to lidocaine by one of Bob’s employees.
“The employee previously broke his pelvis and had been suffering from back pain over the two days leading up to May 2. As a result, he wore a Salonpas patch on his back that he personally applied. That brand of patch contains small amounts of lidocaine. It is believed that lidocaine from that patch was innocently transferred from the employee’s hands to the horses through the application of tongue ties….” (“Tongue ties,” by the way, are abusive in and of themselves.)
Pity this hapless Hall of Famer, he just can’t catch a break.
From the most recent Stewards Minutes at Los Alamitos, December 28:
“The hearing for the penalty portion of the Methamphetamine case against Trainer Jose Flores took place this afternoon. Mr. Flores’ horse Look of Love MV was the winner of the fifth race at Los Alamitos Race Course on May 17. The post-race blood and urine samples showed the presence of Methamphetamine…a split sample confirmed the original findings.
“[Mr. Flores’] defense centered around the fact that once he was aware of the positive test, he ordered all employees in his barn to be tested for drugs. He also volunteered to test. All samples came back clean except for one. Victor Arias, who was the horse’s groom, tested positive for the drug found in the horse’s sample – Methamphetamine. Arias has since been barred from these grounds by management.
“Equine Medical Director Dr. Rick Arthur stated in the investigative report that the level [of Methamphetamine] in both blood and urine were extremely high, leading him to conclude that it was not an accidental positive test – someone purposely gave the horse Methamphetamine. We will…render a decision in the near future.”
By the way, the 2-year-old Look of Love Mv remains in the possession of Mr. Flores; in fact, Flores raced her at Los Alamitos December 27 – just a day before this hearing.
In other news:
In the 2nd at Sunland Tuesday, says Equibase, Sea Merman “bled outwardly and was vanned off.”
In the 2nd at Fair Grounds yesterday, J Rob “…came under the whip…responded well…and prevailed under vigorous urging [more whipping] then was vanned off after returning to the winners circle [yes, he ‘won’].” J Rob was one of three horses to be “vanned off” on the Fair Grounds day.
This is horseracing.
Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Justify failed a drug test after winning a 2018 Santa Anita race – about one month before the Kentucky Derby. Assuming the Times’ information is correct, had the results been expeditiously disclosed and the matter prosecuted according to the rules in place at the time, Justify’s win would have been vacated, and he would not have qualified for the Derby. Hence, no Triple Crown. But things moved at a snail’s pace and eventually – months later – the case was dropped altogether. What’s more, in October of that year, the penalty for the drug in question – scopolamine – was significantly reduced by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), making it appear it wasn’t that bad a violation to begin with.
The above, of course, should come as no surprise, as horseracing is fundamentally incestuous: The CHRB’s chair, Chuck Winner, owns horses trained by Justify’s Bob Baffert; at least two other board members, including vice-chair Madeline Auerbach, are also still very much active in the very industry they’re tasked to regulate. And given Racing’s declining fortunes and desperate need for a media “superstar,” there was little chance the CHRB was going to take any action that would have prevented Justify from running at Churchill – in fact, the full board wasn’t even notified of the positive till after the Kentucky Derby – and zero chance it was going to act in a way that could have stripped Justify of the Triple Crown. Corrupt, to the core.