Triple Crown Winner Got a Secret Break Before Derby

'New York Times' says Justify failed a drug test, was still allowed to run
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 12, 2019 2:07 PM CDT

(Newser) – Justify won the Triple Crown in 2018 and immediately became the most valuable horse in history thanks to a $60 million deal for his stud fees. But as the New York Times reports, there's now a big question of whether the horse trained by the legendary Bob Baffert should have been allowed to run for the coveted prize. It turns out Justify failed a drug test in a qualifying race weeks before the Kentucky Derby. If normal protocol had been followed, Justify would not have been allowed to run in the derby while the ensuing investigation took place. However, the California Horse Racing Board not only let Justify run, it quietly dismissed the issue altogether and reduced the penalty for the drug in question after the horse won the Triple Crown, reports Joe Drape. A racing board official insists that nothing fishy took place.

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Justify tested positive for "excessive" amounts of scopolamine, which can give horses a competitive edge. However, the board official notes that false positives can arise if a horse eats jimson weed, and he says it would have been nearly impossible to complete a thorough investigation before the derby. The documents reviewed by the Times don't suggest any pressure on the board from Baffert or others, but Drape notes that horse racing is "uniquely insular." For example, board chairman Chuck Winner own an interest in Baffert-trained horses. "Whatever the rationale for keeping (the drug test) quiet, however the CHRB will spin its procedures and its concern for due process, this looks like another case of an industry hiding its dirty laundry at a time it ought to be embracing transparency," writes Tim Sullivan at the Louisville Courier Journal. "It looks awful." (Read more Triple Crown stories.)

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