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Triple Crown winner Justify failed drug test before Kentucky Derby: NYT – Axios

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The big picture: The California Horse Racing Board was the investigating authority because Justify failed the test at the Santa Ana Derby in Santa Anita Park, California, the Times reports. The board and racecourse have been under intense scrutiny because of the deaths of 30 horses there since Dec. 26.

  • An investigation was launched in April, when 23 horses had died at Santa Anita Park, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey confirmed.
  • Legislation designed to strengthen horse safety and race track accountability was signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in June.

By the numbers: Per Horse Racing Business, betting in 2018 paid out $149.9 million on the Derby, $93.66 million for the Preakness Stakes and $138 million in the Belmont Stakes.

  • The Derby alone carried a $2 million purse in 2018, with the winner guaranteed 62% of that ($1.24 million), SB Nation reported.
  • Justify entered the Derby as favorite, with the win paying $7.80, $6 and $4.40 (win/place/show), per ESPN.
  • A bettor in Las Vegas won $150,000 on Justify’s Derby win after placing a bet in February when the odds were 300-1, ESPN reported.

What they’re saying: The Times reports that Justify was found after the Santa Ana Derby at Santa Anita Park, California, to have with 300 nanograms per milliliter of scopolamine, a substance that the U.S. Library of Medicine indicates could enhance performance in horses.

  • The California Horse Racing Board took months to confirm the results and decided in secret to drop the case and soften the penalty for any horse with scopolamine, according to the NYT.
  • The substance could have been attributed to the horse eating jimson weed, which is known to contain high levels of scopolamine, the board argued in the report.
  • Bob Baffert, Justify’s Hall of Fame trainer, knew of the results before the Derby, the Times reports. He did not respond to requests for comment on the story.
  • There’s no evidence of pressure or tampering by Justify’s owners, according to documents reviewed by the Times.
  • “I think it has to come from intentional intervention,” said Dr. Rick Sams, who previously headed the drug lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, to the Times.

The other side: California Horse Racing Board executive director Rick Baedeker acknowledged to the NYT that Justify’s case was delicate because of its timing, but he stressed that there were accidental environmental contamination concerns over the scopolamine, which is often used as a defense.

“We could end up in Superior Court one day. There was no way that we could have come up with an investigative report prior to the Kentucky Derby. That’s impossible. Well, that’s not impossible, that would have been careless and reckless for us to tell an investigator what usually takes you two months, you have to get done in 5 days, 8 days. We weren’t going to do that.”

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