Justify, the only horse to ever to win American Racing's triple crown without running as a two-year-old, failed a drug test before the Kentucky Derby, according to The New York Times.
Joe Drape's story alleges the California Horseracing Board was aware of the adverse findings but acted in a way that was not consistent with previous instances.
According to documents seen by Drape, Justify returned an adverse sample following his victory in the Santa Anita Derby, a race he needed to win to ensure participation under the famed Twin Spires.
Trainer Bob Baffert was informed of the adverse finding days before the Kentucky Derby and asked for the B sample to be tested. That also returned an adverse finding for scopolamine.
By the time the second sample had confirmed the original finding, Justify had already won the Kentucky Derby; the first leg of the Triple Crown.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 10, 2018
That was on May 8th, according to documents seen by The New York Times, the California Horseracing Board (CHRB) members were informed on that day, too.
“The C.H.R.B. investigations unit will issue a complaint and a hearing will be scheduled,” the memo to board members read.
No official complaint was filed and the hearing never took place.
The case was handled differently from others. The Justify case was presented directly to the commissioners of the CHRB in a 'private executive session' on August 23rd, 2018.
Justify had made his final racecourse appearance over two months previously on June 9th.
Members were aware that the case would be “handled differently than usual” from previous communications.
However, CHRB members assumed that meant in the investigation's level of thoroughness.
The direct hearing was an exceptional occurrence.
It had not happened previously during the five-and-a-half-year tenure of the presenting equine medical director. Upon hearing the case, the board voted unanimously not to proceed with a case against the now dual triple crown-winning trainer Baffert.
The board drew the conclusion that the presence of the scopolamine was due to contaminated feed, as the substance is found in jimson weed, which grows in California, though the strong odour and taste of the plant make it unappealing for horses to eat.
Californian trainers should be aware of any potential threats from jimson weed contaminating their horses. Trainers were alerted to its danger in official correspondence by CHRB in November 2016.
A former employee of the Kentucky Horse Racing commission told The New York Times about scopolamine acting as a "bronchodilator" that can"optimise a horse's heart rate". He also noted the volume in Justify's sample was "excessive".
While the case was pending, Justify completed his triple crown and was retired with an ankle problem. Baffert said at the time the horse had run out of time to pursue an autumn campaign.
He was also sold to Coolmore as a stallion during that time, reportedly for $60 million, standing alongside fellow triple crown winner American Pharoah.
Rick Arthur, an equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, has rubbished the claims today in The Racing Post.
Baffert and the CHRB are due to make statements later on Thursday.