Justify and Hopportunity Drug Complaints Dismissed

Horse Racing Radar
Valerie Mellema
Valerie Mellema is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Thursday, December 10, 2020

In a video meeting October 29th, 2020, the Santa Anita Stewards John Herbuveaux, Ron Church and Kim Sawyer heard evidence and testimony on the combined cases involving JUSTIFY and HOPPORTUNITY'S testing positive for scopolamine in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby (JUSTIFY) and the 2018 Tokyo City Cup (HOPPORTUNITY). Both horses were trained by Bob Baffert.


The complaints were filed by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) involving the post-race drug tests sought to disqualify the horses from their victories in the 2018 races and sought to redistribute the purse money. While both horses tested positive for the drug in their post-race tests, the CHRB did not rule positives in either case based on the lab results at the time. Instead, they followed the advice of Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical advisor, and determined the samples were caused by environmental contamination.


Bob Baffert stated that neither horse was administered the drug and that it was the result of the horse eating hay with jimsonweed, which grows wild in California. The drug is sometimes used to treat mild colic and spasms, but the weed can cause false positives.


The CHRB attorney, Robert Petersen, argued that there was no statute of limitations in either case. The CHRB filed the complaint against JUSTIFY as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by BOLT D'ORO owner-trainer, Mark Ruis. BOLT D'ORO finished second in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby.


In their decision, the stewards stated that the CHRB had already ruled on the matter in their closed door session on August 23, 2018 at Del Mar and voted to not move forward with the complaints.


"It is the stewards' opinion that had this board of stewards heard the JUSTIFY and HOPPORTUNITY complaints prior to August 23, 2018, both horses would have been disqualified. It is also this board of stewards' belief that at the August 23, 2018 CHRB meeting in Del Mar, California, the attending commissioners unanimously voted, in executive session, to accept the staff recommendation of Mr. Baedeker and Dr. Arthur and formally declined to move forward with any charges in the JUSTIFY matter."


JUSTIFY'S positive test did not become public until September 2019, when it was revealed in a NEw York Times story three months after the horse won the Triple Crown and was retired to stud duty. HOPPORTUNITY has also since been retired.


Another issue discussed in the video meeting on Oct. 29th that was five hours and 20 minutes long was the status of the drug scopolamine under California rules at the time of the 2018 races. The stewards said that based on evidence and testimony at the time, the drug was either Class 3, which requires disqualification or Class 4, which does not require disqualification. The stewards noted that the CHRB formally adopted an amendment that updated the classification of the drug from Class 3 to Class 4 on the same date it voted to not view the post-race tests in question in their session on August 23, 2018. In its findings in the hearing, the board of stewards determined that the drug was a Class 3 substance at the time of the races in question.


"It is the opinion of this panel that the evidence and testimony reflect the fact that the CHRB must formally adopt a rule change before any change in drug substance classifications can become effective. With this in mind, the stewards have determined that at the time of the races for JUSTIFY and HOPPORTUNITY on April 7 and April 8, 2018, scopolamine was a Class 4 prohibited substance," the stewards said.


Finally, the stewards also determined that there is no statute of limitations in terms of the current board filing a complaint more than two years after the races in question. They stated that the arguments were heard on this issue, no applicable rule or statute was referenced.


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