Tuesday, during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Racing Commission, Tom Chuckas of the Dept. of Agriculture revealed that recent raids at Parx uncovered “a significant amount of contraband…dealing with medications, unlabeled, compounded or expired…needles and syringes and some other things.” Racing Commissioner Russell Jones told the Thoroughbred Daily News: “No names were given to us but I know they found a lot of (expletive)…a lot of evidence, syringes, whatever you call that stuff.”

Parx, like PA’s five other racetracks, is being propped up – to the tune of almost $250 million a year – by state taxpayers. That’s money that should be going to education, infrastructure, and the like. Meanwhile, 177 horses have died at Parx over the past four calendar years (’17-’20); Parx led the nation in kills in 2019 with 59.

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I have long maintained that drugs in racing is given far too much attention. Yes, the (obviously) nonconsensual drugging and doping of racehorses is a wrong, but it’s only one of many – and not even close to being the worst. For the apologists, it represents an out: All we need do is clean up the meds, like baseball did with steroids, and all will be right with the world. For some advocates, it’s a clear case of missing the forest for the trees. Still, occasionally a drug rap is so big it merits all that attention.

By now, most of you have heard that Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, this year’s Derby “winner,” has tested positive for the anti-inflammatory betamethasone. Even if the split comes back negative and this does not become only the second drug DQ in Derby history, watching the industry squirm and its biggest, most successful trainer go apoplectic will have been satisfaction enough. Mr. Baffert to Sports Illustrated:

“We did not give it to him. The vet, no one, has ever treated him with it. This is a gut punch for something I didn’t do. It’s disturbing. … I don’t know what’s going on in racing right now, but there’s something not right. I don’t feel embarrassed. I feel like I was wronged. We’re going to do our own investigation.

“I do not feel safe to train. It’s getting worse and to me, you know going forward, how do I enjoy training? How do I move forward, knowing something like this could happen? It’s complete injustice but I’m going to fight it tooth and nail. I owe it to the horse, to the owner and our industry. … These contamination levels—I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I know not everyone is out to get me—but there’s definitely something going on. Why is it happening to me?”

Why indeed, Bob. Why indeed.

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.