Justify tests positive? Why are we surprised?

Sep 12, 2019 8:08 AM

Justify won the 2018 Triple Crown for Bob Baffert. It was Baffert’s second Triple Crown in three years after the sport went three decades without such a feat. 

Information is coming out that Justify tested positive for Scopolamine, a banned substance that can enhance performance depending on the amount found in the horse’s system. In the case of Justify, Dr. Rick Sams told The New York Times that the amount found in Justify was “excessive, and suggested the drug was intended to enhance performance”.

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The test was conducted on April 7, a month before the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Baffert was notified of the failed test and, as his is right, requested a split sample be tested at an approved independent lab. The split sample came back positive and confirmed the existence of the banned drug on May 8, four days after Justify won the Kentucky Derby.

So, there you have it. The California Horse Racing Board had verified information that the winner of the Kentucky Derby tested for a banned substance in the very race, the Santa Anita Derby, which qualified him for the Kentucky Derby. 

Clearly, they followed protocol in requesting a hearing on the findings, correct? No, they did not. They hid the information from the public, voted to drop the case and concealed the issue. They allowed Justify, and Baffert, to continue his journey to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and become the 13th winner of the storied Triple Crown.

Let’s get real for a moment. A large percentage of the results in thoroughbred horse racing are tainted by the use of performance enhancing drugs. This is common knowledge among those close to the sport despite the disingenuous claim that drug testing is proof that the sport is clean. Drug testing is woefully behind the offenders.

It would have been hard to think horse racing could suffer more of a black eye than it has in 2019. Santa Anita was heavily featured in mainstream news for the 30 deaths which occurred during their recent meet. This revelation could do equal harm to the sport. 

Baffert is the face of horse racing to the public and has more accomplishments in the sport than any other trainer in history. In addition, the Triple Crown has always had a mystic quality. The few horses in history who had swept the Triple Crown were legends of the game. The feat was/is considered one of the top 5-10 accomplishments in North American sports. This news can only cheapen it.

I’ve always felt that it might take a disqualification in the Kentucky Derby for the hammer to drop regarding the rampant drug issue crippling the sport. It never occurred to me what the ramifications might be if a Triple Crown winner was disqualified for racing with a banned, performance enhancing substance. 

It is the feeling among many that the game will have to get far worse before it gets better. In other words, there are many profiting on the status quo and would only relinquish their grasp in the face of public uproar. This shocking news has the requisite variables to inspire real change.

There may be an innocent explanation for Scopolamine showing up in the system of Justify after the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert has not commented on the situation but the CHRB came to the bizarre conclusion that the drug found its way to Justify through feed contamination. 

This is quite a leap of faith especially considering two hurdles: first, the amount was excessive and second, the taste and smell is vile to a horse.

None of us has the empirical data to make absolute claims. However, finding fire where there is smoke is hardly shocking. 

You know what else isn’t shocking? An unraced two-year old sweeping the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown all in 100 days, being retired for $75 million in breeding rights and well after the fact finding out a performance enhancing drug was involved. 

Let’s hope the explanation is as palatable to us as was the rotten Jimsin weed Justify reportedly gorged on.

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