RACING is in the ‘bad news’ again in the US, courtesy of Joe Drape, the New York Times reporter with a clear anti racing agenda. Never a good word from his politically correct, liberal trap.

Drape reported in the Times’ Wednesday edition that 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify tested positive for scopolamine after his victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in early April 2018.

According to documents reviewed by Drape, the California Horse Racing Board subsequently voted to dismiss the case during a closed-door executive session in August 2018, after the horse had won the Triple Crown.

Scopolamine is used to treat gastrointestinal upset in humans. It can occur naturally in jimson weed, which could be present in feed or bedding materials. In the mid-1990s, fines issued to five trainers in California over scopolamine positives were rescinded after the trainers attributed the presence of the drug to jimson weed.

The CHRB issued a warning to trainers in 2016, urging them to pull weeds out of straw bedding. Horses are believed to mostly avoid the weed, as it has a bitter taste. Dr. Rick Sams, former laboratory director for LGC Science Inc., told the Times scopolamine can act as a bronchodilator and that the amount detected in Justify “was excessive.”

The Times indicated trainer Bob Baffert, who did not provide comment on the story, was informed of the positive before Justify shipped to Kentucky for the Derby, and exercised his right to a split sample test. That test confirmed the presence of the drug, though it was not returned until after the Kentucky Derby.

After the split sample confirmed the finding, CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker reportedly informed commissioners of the positive and stated a complaint would be issued and a hearing would be scheduled. Neither took place, according to the Times, and the CHRB voted unanimously not to proceed with the case on Aug. 23. In October, the Times reported, the CHRB followed a previous recommendation of the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules and voted to reduce the penalty for scopolamine, which is classified by ARCI as a Class 4 drug.

Baedeker indicated “a handful of other horses may have been contaminated” but offered no other details to the Times.

Drape, sensationalising, wrote: “Horse racing has a long history of trainers’ repurposing drugs in pursuit of a performance edge. Frog and cobra venom, Viagra, cocaine, heart medicines and steroids have all been detected in drug tests.

“Scopolamine cases have resulted in disqualifications, purse reimbursements, fines and suspensions over the decades.

Dr. Rick Sams, who ran the drug lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission from 2011 to 2018, said scopolamine can act as a bronchodilator to clear a horse’s airway and optimize a horse’s heart rate, making the horse more efficient. He said the amount of scopolamine found in Justify — 300 nanograms per milliliter — was excessive, and suggested the drug was intended to enhance performance.

“I think it has to come from intentional intervention,” he said.

“Baffert and other trainers in California were well aware that scopolamine was a banned substance and that it could occasionally be found in jimson weed, though the plant’s strong odour and foul taste make it unappealing. In November 2016, Dr. Rick Arthur, the racing board’s equine medical director, warned horsemen to be alert to jimson weed in their feed and hay, saying that a positive test for the drug is “totally avoidable.”

“Now, the likelihood under our current procedures of getting a positive from environmental contamination is rather low,” Dr. Arthur said at the time.

“On April 20, two days after learning of Justify’s positive test, Dr. Arthur wrote in an email circulated to Baedeker, the board’s executive director, its lawyers and its interim chief investigator that the case would be “handled differently than usual.” He asked for further
testing and review of the data.

“In an interview, Baedeker, speaking on behalf of Dr. Arthur, said he believed Dr. Arthur meant that the investigation had to be thorough.

“The California racing board, along with the horse racing industry at large, has been under fire because of the death of 30 racehorses since Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park. The Los Angeles district attorney is investigating the deaths.

“Baffert has endured previous regulatory proceedings in California.

“In 2013, after seven horses in his care died over a 16 -month period, he was the subject of a report by the board, which revealed he had been giving every horse in his barn a thyroid hormone without checking to see if any of them had thyroid problems.

“Baffert told the investigators that he thought the medication would help “build up” his horses even though the drug is generally associated with weight loss. In that case, the board’s report found no evidence “that C.H.R.B. rules or regulations have been violated.”

One South African horseman commented: “This is sensationalising the issue without supportive available data, and based on ’suggestion’. Trainers are in a vulnerable position when it comes to food contamination, there are caffeine cases in the news right now. As for bedding, stables cannot test bedding every day. How are trainers to know that bedding may or may not be contaminated, is the poison in the grass or not?”

“It is still very early in the cycle of this news, but the biggest questions for me involve the actions of the regulatory body in California,” said Pat Cummings, Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, a privately-funded industry think tank.

“Racing in America needs far greater transparency, stricter controls, and quite simply, an approach that builds confidence amongst stakeholders. The status quo has not been sufficient for a very long time, and it shows in the metrics used to measure or business. If we want our sport to be taken seriously, if we want punters to support racing with their continuous investment, if we want proper incentives for owners and breeders, we need to regulate our sport to a level well beyond where we are today.”


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