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.

(full NY Times article)

The Horseracing Integrity Act speciously suggests that all that stands between horseracing and integrity is a national drug program overseen by a central organization. First, drugs in racing is a divisive topic within the industry. In a recent Cronkite News article, Dr. Verlin Jones, a track vet with 30 years experience, says:

“Right now in Arizona we have probably mid-level to low-level claimers. That population of horses comes with their own set of problems, so we deal with horses that have a higher level of injury… I think that right now these private practitioners on the back side, their hands are really, really handcuffed. When you’re dealing with this level of horse, they have a lot of problems. Those problems can be taken care of, but we have to have our full arsenal in order to do that.” Then this: “I really feel like horses today are having to run in more pain. More pain leads to muscle fatigue, muscle fatigue leads to bone fatigue, bone fatigue leads to catastrophic breakdowns.”

In other words, less drugs may mean more dead horses, at least at the more pedestrian tracks – which is to say, the majority of tracks.

In addition, the bill would ban raceday medication, more specifically Lasix. Many within racing believe that Lasix is therapeutic, as it purportedly controls pulmonary bleeding in fast-moving racehorses. In a Louisville Courier Journal article from April, renowned trainer Dale Romans says, “I like facts, and the facts are that we’ve been using [Lasix] and it doesn’t hurt horses.” Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, added, “I would hope the industry stakeholders understand the ban on the use of furosemide…will not prevent horses from suffering catastrophic injuries, and in fact, could cause further harm and should not be seen as a safety reform.”

But more to the point is what the Horseracing Integrity Act does not, because it cannot, address: The inherent cruelty and inevitable deadliness of horseracing. On the former, in addition to being torn from their mothers as mere babes, being bought and sold like common Amazon products, and subjected to lip tattoos, cribbing collars, nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and whips, racehorses – innately social and mobile animals – are kept locked, alone, in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day. They are kept thus because as costly assets their owners are loath to risk injury in a more natural (humane) setting.

As to the killing, and contrary to what the reformers would have you believe, death at the track is, has always been, and always will be a built-in part of the system: From breeding for speed (big torsos, spindly legs, fragile ankles); to working pubescent bodies (the typical horse doesn’t fully mature until 6; the typical racehorse begins intensive training at 18 months); to the incessant grinding of those bodies (if they’re not racing, they’re not earning); to forcing them to “race” at an unnatural rate (breakneck) through unnatural means (perched, whip-wielding humans); to the commodification (the average racehorse is bought and sold several times over the course of his “career,” making his long-term well-being of no concern to his current people) – horseracing guarantees a certain level of killing. Guarantees.

In the final analysis, the only thing the HIA (or any other “reformist” legislation that may arise) would do is give Racing a desperately needed PR win, which, in turn, would likely help reverse its currently-declining fortunes – which, in turn, would condemn countless more horses to lives of abuse and premature, often gruesome, deaths.

To “distract,” says the American Heritage Dictionary, is “to attract (the attention) away from its original focus; divert.” The original focus regarding Santa Anita was (is) 22 on-track kills since Christmas, 26 dead racehorses overall. The distraction is Lasix, and the ban thereof (The Stronach Group, Santa Anita’s owner, has announced that it and California trainers and owners have reached agreement on a phased-in ban, the particulars of which are wholly irrelevant). Don’t believe me? Fine. Here is how the California Horse Racing Board’s chief vet, Rick Arthur, explained it to the LA Times:

…there “is virtually no relationship whatsoever” between Lasix and catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries, the almost universal cause of breakdowns on the track.

And Stronach COO Tim Ritvo: “Everyone has advised [Belinda Stronach] that that’s not the case. Lasix has not contributed to breakdowns. Lasix does not mask pain. I think we all know that.”

This is so grossly transparent that even a 10-year-old should be able to see through it. They distract, deflect, deceive, and dissemble because when your product is intrinsically cruel and deadly, what other choice do you have?