No Change In 2018 Santa Anita Derby Result As Stewards Dismiss Complaint In Justify/Hoppertunity Cases

Triple Crown winner Justify’s victory in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby, and that of stablemate Hoppertunity in the 2018 Tokyo City Cup, will stand. California Horse Racing Board stewards voted Wednesday to dismiss a CHRB complaint into the results of both races without any change in the final order of finish. The CHRB brought the complaint as part of a settlement agreement in a civil suit from Ruis Racing, which owned Bolt d’Oro, runner-up to Bob Baffert-trained Justify in the Santa Anita Derby.

The CHRB faced public outcry when a New York Times report revealed that post-race samples from both horses contained scopolamine, but that the board voted in executive session behind closed doors not to pursue possible disqualifications or take action against trainer Bob Baffert. CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur advised the board that several other horses also showed levels of scopolamine in their systems around the same time, which led him to believe the tests were the result of environmental contamination. Scopolamine can sometimes be found as a result of exposure to jimson weed, which grows in California and may sometimes end up in hay or bedding.

“Even if this panel were to disagree with the CHRB’s decision to dismiss these matters or the way the CHRB handled the situation it cannot be argued that the CHRB lacked the authority to do so,” read the stewards’ decision. “The law specifically allows such actions to take place and the CHRB followed the law.”

Stewards heard evidence from the CHRB and connections of both horses on Oct. 29. The horses’ connections went to court in an attempt to block a stewards’ hearing on the 2020 CHRB complaint but were unsuccessful.

The complaint brought this year after the Ruis civil suit focused only on whether Justify and Hoppertunity should be disqualified. It was not designed to impose sanctions on Baffert or any other individual.

In a written explanation, the stewards said their decision came down to the timing of changes to the classification of scopolamine. At the time of the races, scopolamine was a Class 3 drug by California rule, which would have required automatic disqualification of a horse regardless of the reason it was present in a post-race sample. However, by the time of the closed-door meeting for the board to discuss the Justify finding, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) had changed the classification of the substance to Class 4. The CHRB voted in a regular, open meeting held on Aug. 23, 2018, to adopt an amendment to its drug rules which put them in line with ARCI guidelines — including, among other things, changing scopolamine from a Class 3 to a Class 4. The presence of Class 4 or 5 substances in horses post-race does not include automatic disqualification as a penalty.

It was in the closed-door executive session portion of that same Aug. 23 meeting that the board heard information about the scopolamine positives, including that of Justify, and voted to dismiss the whole thing without filing a complaint or referring the matter to the stewards for a hearing. CHRB rules at the time permitted the board to handle the case this way, with no public disclosure.

Wednesday’s stewards’ decision acknowledges that Arthur warned the board during that executive session “there might be a perceived lack of transparency should the CHRB fail to go public with the decision and that it would probably not remain a secret.”

The decision went on to question how the outcome may have been different had it gone through the normal channels for a post-race finding and done so more quickly.

“It is the stewards’ opinion that had this board of stewards heard the Justify and Hoppertunity complaints prior to Aug. 23, 2018, both horses would have been disqualified.”

In their order, the stewards suggested it didn’t really matter what classification scopolamine was in April or August of 2018. “The CHRB has already ruled on this matter,” they wrote, “in executive session, at the Aug. 23, 2018, CHRB meeting in Del Mar, Calif., and voted to not move forward with complaints.”

That begs the question: If the CHRB had already ruled on the matter in 2018, why did that same CHRB insist stewards conduct a hearing in 2020?

See the full stewards’ decision here.

The post No Change In 2018 Santa Anita Derby Result As Stewards Dismiss Complaint In Justify/Hoppertunity Cases appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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