Reports Claim Baffert Horses, Including Kentucky Derby Prospect, Failed Drug Tests in Arkansas
Posted on: May 27, 2020, 03:42h.
Last updated on: June 6, 2020, 10:22h.
Reports circulated Tuesday that two thoroughbreds from trainer Bob Baffert’s stable tested positive for a banned substance after they raced at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Arkansas earlier this month.
The New York Times identified the horses as Gamine, a 3-year-old filly who won an allowance race at the Hot Springs track on May 2, and Charlatan, a 3-year-old colt who won one of the Arkansas Derby divisions the same day.
The Arkansas Derby is a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby, and Charlatan is one of at least three top Kentucky Derby candidates for Baffert, who has trained two Triple Crown winners in the last five years.
In a statement given to Tim Sullivan of The Louisville Courier-Journal, Baffert said the Arkansas Racing Commission rules call for investigations into alleged infractions to be confidential until stewards issue a written decision. He added he was disappointed the state regulatory body failed to follow those rules.
“I am hoping for an expedited investigation and look forward to being able to speak soon about any written decision of the Stewards, if and when it becomes necessary and I’m allowed to under the Commission’s confidentiality rules,” Baffert said.
Both horses reportedly tested positive for lidocaine, a local anesthetic. The Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) said lidocaine is considered a Class 2 drug, which is defined as a substance with “a high potential to affect performance.”
Testing procedures in Arkansas call for samples to be split, and the remaining sample can be tested upon request. The Thoroughbred Daily News reported Baffert requested tests of the split samples.
A Hall of Fame trainer, Baffert has more than 3,000 wins in a career that dates back more than 30 years. Among his horses are five Kentucky Derby winners and seven Preakness Stakes winners.
Suspension, Disqualification Possible
If found in violation, Baffert could find himself suspended for up to 60 days and faced with a fine of up to $1,000, according to ARCI guidelines. Charlatan could also face disqualification from the race, and that could keep the horse from running in next month’s Belmont Stakes, the first leg of the 2020 Triple Crown, and potentially the Kentucky Derby.
The allegations cast yet another pall over the sport, one which has been under a tremendous amount of scrutiny in the past 18 months because of concerns about mounting equine deaths at tracks and the prevalence of US horses racing on Lasix and other drugs.
Just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down sports across the country – although not horse racing in some parts – a US Attorney in New York announced charges against 27 people in a scheme to give horses illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Among the trainers charged in the case is Jason Servis, who was accused of giving PEDS to Grade I stakes winner Maximum Security. After the indictment, Maximum Security’s owners announced they would transfer their prized colt to Baffert’s stable.
Justify Cleared After Failed Test
But even Baffert himself has come under question in the past year. Last year, the New York Times reported that Justify, Baffert’s 2018 Triple Crown winner, initially tested positive for Scopolamine after he ran in the Santa Anita Derby. Scopolamine is a Class 3 drug, which is considered to have a lower effect on performance enhancement than a Class 2 drug.
Baffert denied the doping allegation, and months later the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) eventually cleared Baffert and the horse, saying the horse and others in different barns at Santa Anita ingested a trace amount of the substance.
However, there were questions about the process, with Baffert not learning of the failed test until just a few days before the Kentucky Derby. In addition, the then-CHRB chairman owned horses trained by Baffert.
As the case played out, Justify won the Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes, and Baffert noted the horse passed each of those drug tests. Still, the positive test could have disqualified Justify from his Santa Anita win and kept him from qualifying for the Kentucky Derby.
Since the report, the owner-trainer of the horse that finished second in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby has filed suit against the CHRB.
Oaklawn Owner and President Louis Cella told the Times Tuesday that Arkansas regulators will handle the matter better than California officials.
“That was an embarrassment to the industry,” Cella said. “We will push to have this cleared up by the Belmont Stakes.”
Advocates Renew Call for Legislation
Animal welfare advocates have been working for more than a year to get Congress to pass the Horseracing Integrity Act. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by US Reps. Paul Tonko (D-New York) and Andy Barr (R-Kentucky), seeks to nationalize standards for drug testing and create an independent anti-doping agency for horse racing.
After Servis and the others were charged in their case, Baffert joined other horsemen and racing leaders to support the bill.
The news surrounding the reported failed tests led to more calls for the bill’s passage.
Critics claim no horse should ever be doped to run a race, which is exactly why the HSUS has been working with Congress to pass the Horseracing Integrity Act. Trainers who rely on substance abuse must be held accountable,” said Kitty Block, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States.
Marty Irby, executive director for Animal Wellness Action, told Casino.org it was not acceptable for trainers to give horses lidocaine to block pain.
If a horse needs lidocaine to perform, then the horse should be resting and not racing,” Irby added. “What the public may not realize is that lidocaine is typically a topical agent applied to the skin and limbs, and may be undetected by a blood test.
“Any trainer caught using lidocaine on race day should be harshly reprimanded by the governing body with the authority over the incident until we pass the Horseracing Integrity Act that would ban all race-day medication. The Arkansas Racing Commission is considered the bottom of the barrel when it comes to horseracing integrity, and I hope they will take this case seriously – Hot Springs is already becoming known as a hot bed for horse abuse.”
The bill has had one hearing before a Congressional committee. However, it may not need to pass a committee in order to get a vote. Proponents have been working the halls of Congress to get 290 cosponsors for the bill. If they reach that number, it can be discharged to the floor for a vote.
As of Tuesday, 252 House members serve as cosponsors. According to Congress.gov, only 41 bills filed for the 2019-2020 session have more cosponsors.