The horse racing world was rocked on September 11, 2019 when a report revealed that Justify failed a drug test prior to winning the Triple Crown in 2018. The presence of a banned performance-enhancing substance was found in the horse’s system after Justify’s win in the Santa Anita Derby just one month before the Kentucky Derby.
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A Triple Crown Tainted By Illegal Medications
The New York Times was the first to break the story of Justify’s failed drug test. On April 7, 2018, Justify won the Santa Anita Derby in California. This was the final prep race for Justify and trainer Bob Baffert before heading to Kentucky to begin the Triple Crown series.
After the race a drug test was performed on Justify in the Santa Anita test barn. This is common for the winners of all races. Tests are done to determine if any illegal medication were given to the horse before the race. The test results usually take a few days to return. When the results for Justify came back they were positive for the drug scopolamine, a drug banned by horse racing.
Scopolamine can be a performance enhancer. It was found in very high levels in Justify. Bob Baffert and the owners of Justify were made aware of the bad test per race track policy. That should have been the end of Justify’s Triple Crown story but it wasn’t. The real story was only just beginning.
A Massive Cover Up By California Horse Racing Officials
At the time of the Santa Anita Derby Justify was undefeated. That was quite an accomplishment but not enough to qualify the horse as a Triple Crown contender. The Kentucky Derby is the first race in the Triple Crown sequence. To get into the Kentucky Derby as horse must amass qualifying points in prep races. The Santa Anita Derby is one of those races.
Justify needed a win or a second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby to qualify for the race in Kentucky. Without it he would not have enough points to compete. Justify went on to win the race and secure the points needed to make trip to Kentucky.
Except he didn’t. According to the rules of horse racing Justify should have been disqualified for his failed drug test. The disqualification would have kept him out of the Kentucky Derby and changed horse racing history as we know it today.
The horse racing officials in California waited almost three weeks before notifying Bob Baffert that Justify has failed his drug test. The Kentucky Derby was just nine days away. Nothing else was done at that time. A formal inquiry was postponed until after the Triple Crown series. Once the Triple Crown had been won by Justify, the inquiry was closed without further discussion.
Bob Baffert and Justify had just stolen the Triple Crown and no one except Baffert and a few racing officials in California knew about it.
California Blames Horse Food for Justify’s Bad Test
In the wake of the bad drug test and Justify’s victory the racing officials in California began to attempt to cover themselves in the wake of discovery. They decided that they would claim Justify could have eaten contaminated food which contained scopolamine. Later that year, the racing officials decided to change the penalty for using scopolamine to a mere fine and possible suspension. They had little evidence to suggest that this story was true or even plausible, but they entered it into the formal record. The California Horse Racing Board and its director Rick Baedeker even admitted that timing of the bad test created a delicate situation.
The manner in which California racing officials decided to handle this delicate matter was to cover it up. There can be no other conclusion based on the evidence presented by the New York Times. In doing so the officials revealed that California would go to any lengths to deliver a Triple Crown winner. Justify and Baffert are based in California.
The West Coast Bias in Horse Racing
It is long been held that there is a West Coast bias when it comes to televised coverage of horse racing. This is especially true in the case of TVG, the most popular horse racing network in the world. TVG regularly touts California horses during the Triple Crown series and shows less favor toward horses that are based on the East Coast.
There is an ongoing rivalry between the horsemen on both coasts. It now seems that California will go to any extreme to make sure that its own horses come out on top. The manner in which this cover up was managed is shameful and disgraces horse racing.
What Happens Next for Justify?
There have already been calls for Justify to be stripped of his Triple Crown victory. It is unclear what actions will be taken, but it is more than likely that nothing will happen because of how racing is managed in the United States.
There is no central governing body of horse racing in the US. Thais means that it would be up to racing officials in California to determine what to do about the test, and thy have already decided to so nothing. It is possible that officials in Kentucky could disqualify Justify from his win in the Kentucy Derby but that is also unlikely.
The most likely result is that the Triple Crown will forever be stained by cheating and an illegitimate champion.