Arkansas Commission Upholds Stewards’ Rulings But Rescinds DQs, Suspension For Baffert

Following two days of testimony and legal arguments, the Arkansas Racing Commission voted unanimously to uphold three stewards’ rulings from the 2020 Arkansas Derby race card, but also to modify the penalties in those rulings. Two rulings dealt with lidocaine positives from Bob Baffert trainees Charlatan, who won one division of the Arkansas Derby, and Gamine, who won an allowance race on the Arkansas Derby undercard. Originally, stewards disqualified both horses and ordered the purses from those races be redistributed. The commission’s decision Tuesday will rescind those disqualifications and purse redistributions without actually voiding the drug positives.

The third ruling had been a 15-day suspension for Baffert as a result of the two positives. That suspension was also rescinded and replaced with one $5,000 fine per positive.

“We’re not here to question anyone’s integrity,” said commission chair Alex Lieblong. “We get rules thrown at us and those are the rules.

“We’re all under the microscope because whatever we come up with, it will be controversial. That’s the state of the game right now. I know it’s not healthy, but like I say the federal government sounds like they’re riding to the rescue to straighten it all out.”

Tuesday’s decision by the commission is appealable.

Although Baffert’s legal team had said Monday he likely would not take the witness stand, he did so on Tuesday. Baffert recounted his distress over the unexpected positives.

“I feel like we run a pretty tight ship and I’m very proud of my operation,” he said. “We all know we can’t keep anything like [lidocaine in the barn.] California is pretty strict. Everything is labeled. There is no lidocaine in the barn … my vets don’t even carry lidocaine.”

Initially, Baffert had attributed the horses’ positives to an over-the-counter pain patch being used by his longtime assistant, Jimmy Barnes. Later though, he said he heard one of Charlatan’s competitors also had levels of lidocaine in a post-race test, although those levels were within legal limits.

“It’s one of those things where I don’t know if we’ll ever know what happened but those horses I feel were contaminated that day,” he said. “Jimmy didn’t wear the patches the day of the race. He had no reason to lie to me; he actually didn’t have to say anything. It’s been very emotional. Those horses ran so hard and for something like this to happen, it’s tough.”

Baffert was also asked about the post-race positive Gamine picked up in Kentucky for betamethasone after the Kentucky Oaks later in the year. He said in that case, he was advised to give the drug no more than 14 days prior to racing and actually gave it as part of a hock injection 18 days out even though he said the filly wasn’t lame. He didn’t appeal a stewards’ ruling on that positive.

“I don’t think they have the science right,” he said. “I think the trainers are lab rats. With the atmosphere that’s going on in racing, they test us harder than Olympians.”

Monday’s testimony had focused primarily on errors by Truesdail Laboratories, which was contracted to perform post-race drug testing for Arkansas in 2020. Truesdail lost two accreditations in the spring, making it ineligible to continue testing for Arkansas, so it began sending samples on to Industrial Laboratories. Baffert’s attorneys raised questions about the chain of custody of the post-race samples from the two horses, which were shipped from the track to Truesdail, logged into the computer system, and sent on to Industrial for testing. The samples from Charlatan were also marked by the track as coming from a colt, but marked by Truesdail as coming from a gelding. On Tuesday, Baffert’s lawyers pointed out that it was curious then that Industrial didn’t find anything strange about the sample besides lidocaine, since it certainly would have contained more testosterone from an intact colt than the lab should have expected to find in a gelding.

One expert witness testifying on Baffert’s behalf also raised questions about the relative amounts of lidocaine and lidocaine metabolites in Gamine’s sample, which could have indicated Gamine had an exposure to lidocaine within minutes of the sample being taken. This was not true of Charlatan’s sample, however. Nadal, another Baffert trainee who won the other division of the Arkansas Derby that day, did not have any lidocaine in his system.

Most witnesses agreed that lidocaine probably isn’t something trainers turn to in order to get an edge because of how easily it’s detected.

Byron Freeland, counsel for the commission, argued that regardless of how or why the lidocaine got into the horses’ systems, it was found in levels elevated above the regulatory threshold and due to the absolute insurer rule, Baffert was responsible for those findings. He also stressed that the sample cups and vials of urine and blood were still sealed when they arrived at Industrial for testing and at the University of California-Davis for split sample testing. That split sample testing also revealed elevated levels of lidocaine.

The post Arkansas Commission Upholds Stewards’ Rulings But Rescinds DQs, Suspension For Baffert appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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