Justify, Hoppertunity Disqualification Hearings Should Be Held, California Judge Rules

The connections of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify and Grade 1 winner Hoppertunity on Thursday were thwarted in their attempt to stave off an Oct. 29 hearing before California Horse Racing Board stewards concerning possible disqualification from April 2018 victories by the two horses at Santa Anita Park because of failed drug tests.

Both horses tested positive for the banned substance scopolamine: Justify, after his win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby; and Hoppertunity in the Grade 3 Tokyo City Cup.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant denied an application for a temporary restraining order requested by attorneys for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, and Starlight Racing, the owners of Justify, and Michael Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, the owners of Hoppertunity. Trainer Bob Baffert and jockeys Mike Smith and Flavien Prat were also named as petitioners in the case.

Earlier this year, the CHRB settled a lawsuit filed by Mick Ruis, owner of Santa Anita Derby runner-up Bolt d’Oro, conditional on the stewards conducting a hearing into Justify’s positive drug test. The case was not pursued in 2018 after CHRB members voted unanimously in closed-door executive session – upon the recommendation of equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur and then-CHRB executive director Rick Baedekr – not to file complaints. Arthur and Baedeker had investigated the cases and concluded the positive tests were a result of hay contaminated with jimson weed.

Ruis filed suit after learning of the CHRB’s actions from a 2019 report in the New York Times.

Attorneys for the connections of the two horses argued  that the CHRB was violating government code by reopening a case more than two years after the fact. Attorneys for the state said the petitioners were premature in seeking judicial review because the cases had not yet gone through the administrative process (i.e., a stewards hearing).

“At this hearing, the parties will have the opportunity to present evidence and make argument,” the state said in its opposition to the restraining order. “After the hearing, the Board of Stewards will render a decision. The decision by the Board of Stewards could be in favor of Petitioners or could be against Petitioners. If Petitioners take issue with the decision by the Board of Stewards following the Oct. 29, 2020, hearing, they can file a petition for writ of mandate. … Instead of following the procedures set forth by California law, Petitioners want this court to prematurely intervene and short-circuit the administrative processes of the CHRB.”

In his ruling favoring the CHRB, Chalfant wrote: “The Court, after reading and considering all moving party and opposing party papers, and arguments of counsel, makes the following ruling: The ex parte application is denied. Alternative relief for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction is also denied. Court finds no irreparable harm.”

Darrell Vienna, an attorney for Ruis, issued a statement after the ruling that stated: “We are pleased that Judge Chalfant saw through this flimsy attempt to delay or avoid a long overdue and proper treatment of the positive tests involving these two horses.”

The post Justify, Hoppertunity Disqualification Hearings Should Be Held, California Judge Rules appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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