Famed horse trainer Bob Baffert will serve a 15-day suspension, starting Aug. 1, per the Arkansas Racing Commission. And this follows the disqualification of two of Baffert’s horses from recent races just after they won races at Oaklawn Park on May 2.
While it is no surprise that the test results, which showed the horses positive for banned substances, prompted a suspension, it does bring unwanted attention to one of the biggest names in the industry. And it does so at a time when the racing world is starting a long recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Baffert plans to appeal. Oaklawn Park already disqualified the horses and denied the purse money.
Even so, the Arkansas Racing Commission move is meant to send a clear message. Rule violations will be handled per the rules, no matter one’s name or status at the tracks.
The Incident of Positive Tests
It all started in May when an anonymous source told the New York Times that two of Bafferts’ horses tested positive for lidocaine after their May 2 races. Everyone did a solid job of keeping the test results under wraps, however, until the leak to the NYT.
Lidocaine is a banned substance in the world of horse racing because it can disguise lameness in horses, allowing them to run when they may otherwise be denied. The Association of Racing Commissioners classified it as a Class 2 drug with penalties attached. Those can range from 15 to 60 days of suspension for a trainer and fines of up to $1,000 for an initial offense.
The horses in question were two that ran at Oaklawn Park on May 2.
HOF Trainer Bob Baffert reflects on his back-to-back victories in BOTH Divisions of the Arkansas Derby with Charlatan & Nadal! pic.twitter.com/nv2Fm8ZH2n
— TVG (@TVG) May 3, 2020
One was a Triple Crown hopeful. Charlatan won the Arkansas Derby by six lengths and had shown great promise. Baffert and others looked toward a Charlatan run in the 2020 Belmont Stakes. The test, however, led to Charlatan’s disqualification from the Arkansas Derby win.
Gamine won a race at Oaklawn Park on May 2, too. She was preparing to run in the Santa Anita Oaks to aim for a third win in early June. Gamine did go on to run at Belmont Park on June 20, though, and won the Longines Acorn Stakes.
Charlatan has not raced since the Arkansas Derby. Baffert was still aiming to put him into the Belmont and then the Kentucky Derby, but Charlatan reported an ankle injury in early June. The filling in his front ankle sidelined Charlatan indefinitely.
Baffert Insists Innocence
The positive tests in May – not to mention the leaked information to the press – infuriated Baffert. He claimed that the Arkansas Racing Commission violated confidentiality standards, but he was unable to prove the source of the leak.
Baffert also insisted on a second test, which the ARC promised it would expedite. When those results came in during the first week of July, they showed the same result. The presence of the numbing drug was confirmed in both horses.
Nevertheless, Baffert disputed the results and vowed to fight the case. His attorney claimed that the test only found the drug because of environmental contamination. Attorney W. Craig Robertson III said that the drug’s presence could be traced back to the assistant trainer, Jimmy Barnes, who had used a medicinal patch on his own back that contained lidocaine.
“This is a case of innocent exposure and not intentional administration,” Robertson said.
ARC Makes Final Decision
The Arkansas Racing Commission announced last week that Baffert will be suspended August 1-15.
The ruling disqualified both horses from their Oaklawn wins in early May. It also ordered that Charlatan’s owners forfeit the $300,000 in purse money. Gamine’s owners had to return their $36,000 first-place money as well.
Three rulings against trainer Bob Baffert for medication violations involving Charlatan and Gamine, suspending him 15 days and negating Oaklawn wins for both horses. The DQ of Charlatan from G1 Arkansas Derby could cost his owners millions of dollars in sale of breeding rights. pic.twitter.com/11tgMZ3SFl
— Ray Paulick (@raypaulick) July 16, 2020
Baffert, on the other hand, does not accept the ruling as final and plans to appeal.
This isn’t the first time that scrutiny has fallen on Baffert for failed drug tests.
It happened with Triple Crown Winner Justify in 2018 regarding the Santa Anita Derby the horse won earlier in the year. The California Horse Racing Board pursued the matter, as Justify was supposed to be disqualified from the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby. However, Baffert continually denied any wrongdoing, and the CHRB did end the investigation later that year.
The ruling? Justify’s drug test revealed scopolamine… only due to environmental contamination.