California horse racing regulators reportedly may have worked behind the scenes to clear trainer Bob Baffert of any wrongdoing after Triple Crown winner Justify tested positive for a banned substance in 2018.
According to Gus Garcia-Roberts of the Washington Post, an investigation into confidential records, including "emails, memorandums and other materials" show that regulators treated the case involving Baffert and Justify differently than they typically would.
Justify, who won the Triple Crown in 2018, becoming just the second horse since 1978 to do so, tested positive for the anti-nausea medication scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby in 2018.
It is believed scopolamine could have performance-enhancing effects on race horses, but Justify was allowed to compete in the Triple Crown races, and it wasn't until the New York Times reported on it in 2019 that the positive test became public knowledge.
Per Garcia-Roberts, California Medical Equine Director Rick Arthur played a key role in the handling of the Justify case and wrote in an email to a testing coordinator that "scopolamine cases will be handled differently than usual."
In another email to California Horse Racing Board officials, Arthur suggested that the board should retroactively lessen the punishment for a positive scopolamine test.
While the Association of Racing Commissioners International had reclassified scopolamine from a "3/B" drug to a "4/C" drug, the CHRB had not followed suit. Under the ARCI's recommendation, a positive test for scopolamine would have called for a small punishment not resulting in disqualification.
Under the CHRB's rules at the time, however, a positive scopolamine test would have called for disqualification, and if Justify had been disqualified from the Santa Anita Derby, he would not have qualified for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Despite the fact that Arthur was an advisor and not the one who determines penalties, the CHRB went along with his recommendation.
Then-CHRB Executive Director Rick Baedeker wrote in an email at the time that the decision was made to be more lenient since those involved would have been "unjustly" punished otherwise after the board "failed to act in a timely manner."
With regard to the speed of the CHRB's investigation into Baffert and Justify, Baedeker said: "We might have gone to the board sooner, but obviously because of the high-profile nature of this thing we were making sure we had everything buttoned up."
Arthur reportedly spearheaded an investigation into whether contamination of horse feed from Jimson weed may have been responsible for the positive scopolamine test.
Citrus Feed Company's Larry Bell, who supplied Baffert with feed, aided in the search for Jimson weed and found something in a parking lot that he thought could have been Jimson weed.
Despite Bell admitting there was "no way to determine" the bale he found was part of a delivery to Baffert, the CHRB had the substance tested, and it came back as positive for Jimson weed.
The CHRB later followed recommendations by Arthur and Baedeker that the complaint against Baffert be dropped due to an "environmental contamination incident."
While the Santa Anita Board of Stewards dismissed further complaints against Baffert because of the CHRB's determination, it noted that had it heard the complaints prior to Aug. 23, 2018, it would have disqualified both Justify and Hoppertunity, another Baffert horse that also tested positive for scopolamine.
Baffert—a two-time Triple Crown winner and 17-time Triple Crown race winner—has come under heavy scrutiny recently on the heels of his horse, Medina Spirit, testing positive for a steroid after winning the 2021 Kentucky Derby.