When his Triple Crown winning superstar Justify tested positive for a banned stimulant, there were many in racing who wondered how deep the drugs problem in the sport goes.
And Bob Baffert, who has won everything there is in US racing, has once again fallen foul of authorities after not one but two more of his horses – Charlatan, an Arkansas Derby winner, and Gamine – failed post-race drugs testing at a meeting at Oaklawn Park back in May.
Both tested positive for lidocaine, an anaesthetic that helps to reduce inflammation and pain in joints. It is also one of the most common doping agents used in racing Stateside, and used as an accelerant to help treat horses after colic surgery. It is permitted, however there is a withdrawal period that must be observed, meaning that no horse can be given lidocaine 72 hours or less in the lead-up to a race.
He had denied any wrongdoing, however authorities felt there was sufficient evidence to punish Baffert, and now he will be banned from racing for 15 days as of August 1 while the two horses in question have been retrospectively disqualified from their races and their prize money distributed to others in the field.
A member of Baffert’s racing team, Craig Robertson III, said:
“We are very disappointed in the stewards’ ruling and we will exercise our right to appeal.
“In this instance, we presented a compelling case of mitigating circumstances, including the following undisputed facts; this is a case of innocent exposure, and not intentional administration. The trace levels of lidocaine found in both Charlatan and Gamine would have had no pharmacological effect, much less a performance-enhancing one, on either horse. Zero.
“As such, a suspension of Mr Baffert and a disqualification of either horse is completely unwarranted. We will pursue our legal rights until justice is obtained.”
Smoke Without Fire?
The problem here is that this is a case of the boy who cried wolf. When Justify failed a drugs test prior to winning the Kentucky Derby, he was found to have a high dose of scopolamine in his blood, and when quizzed Baffert said:
“It’s common sense that nobody would intentionally give their horses something like scopolamine. I wouldn’t do that. When it happened, it was like, ‘Seriously? That’s ridiculous.”
And defending the positive tests administered by Charlatan and Gamine, the trainer claimed that the ‘contamination’ occurred when a groom wearing a pain-relief patch somehow managed to pass on a dose of lidocaine to his horses – and Baffert was defiant that the substance had ‘zero’ performance enhancing effects.
Speaking about the latest breach, he claimed:
“I am a big name in racing and try to be as careful as possible, but it was an innocent mistake, unfortunately and we’ll appeal and everyone will see what happened.”
One of the most decorated trainers of all-time in US racing, Baffert has a library of honours both on domestic soil and overseas, with five Kentucky Derbys, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes all on his CV alongside the Dubai World Cup.