Two Horses Trained by Baffert Test Positive for Banned Substances

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Two undefeated horses trained by the Hall of Famer Bob Baffert indeed tested positive for a banned substance in Arkansas, a person familiar with the results of the split-sample test said Monday.

One of the horses, Charlatan, won a division of the Arkansas Derby on May 2. The other, a filly named Gamine, won the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park in New York on June 20 by nearly 19 lengths in a stakes-record time of 1:32.55, a performance that inspired talk of the filly taking on the boys in the Kentucky Derby, which is scheduled for Sept. 5.

The horses had two samples test positive for lidocaine, a local numbing agent, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case had not been fully adjudicated. The New York Times reported on the positive tests of their first samples in late May.

The anesthetic is considered a Class 2 drug by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, and use of it carries a penalty of a 15- to 60-day suspension and a fine of $500 to $1,000 for a first offense. In the absence of mitigating circumstances, the horse would also be disqualified and forfeit its purse. Charlatan earned $300,000 for first place in one of two top races at the Arkansas Derby.

Baffert, who had exercised his right to have a second test performed, planned to dispute the findings and argue that the positive tests were a result of environmental contamination by one of his employees, said Baffert’s attorney, W. Craig Robertson III.

“This is a case of innocent exposure and not intentional administration.” Robertson said in a statement.

ImageGamin, right, a filly ridden by John Velasquez, won the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park in New York on June 20.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Lidocaine can be used legitimately for suturing wounds or as a diagnostic tool to determine whether horses are sound enough to compete. The drug may also be present in ointments or creams used on cuts or abrasions. It is regulated because of its potential to mask lameness in an unsound horse.

Officials from the Arkansas Racing Commission did not answer phone calls from The Times. In May, however, Alex Lieblong, the chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission, told The Times it would schedule a hearing as soon as the second test came back.

“When we get it, there will be no delaying tactics,” he said. “Anything we can expedite, we will do.”

Four days after Charlatan’s runaway victory in the $500,000 Arkansas Derby, the colt’s stallion rights were sold for an undisclosed sum to Hill ‘N’ Dale Farm. The colt missed the Belmont Stakes with an ankle injury, and Baffert has said he will miss the Kentucky Derby, as well. Charlatan may be able to come back in time for the Preakness on Oct. 3.

Justify, another horse trained by Baffert, failed a drug test after winning the Santa Anita Derby, nearly a month before the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Justify wound up sweeping the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes that year for the Triple Crown. The rule on the books when Justify failed the test required that the horse be disqualified, forfeiting both his prize money from the Santa Anita Derby and his entry into the Kentucky Derby.

California racing officials investigated the failed test for four months, allowing Justify to keep competing long enough to win the Triple Crown. In August, after Justify’s breeding rights had been sold for $60 million, the California Horse Racing Board — whose chairman at the time, Chuck Winner, had employed Baffert to train his horses — disposed of the inquiry during a rare closed-door session.

The board ruled that Justify’s positive test for the banned drug scopolamine had been the result of “environmental contamination,” not intentional doping. 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.

Mick Ruis, the owner of the second-place horse in the Santa Anita Derby, is in litigation with California officials to have his colt Bolt d’Oro declared the winner and awarded the $600,000 first-place check.

In March, federal prosecutors announced the arrests of 27 people, including veterinarians and drug distributors, charging them in a series of indictments with doping racehorses and cheating the public. Among those charged was Jason Servis — who trained Maximum Security, the horse that crossed the finish line first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby but was disqualified for interference.

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