Attorney: New York Times' Justify story 'short on facts'

September 12, 2019 12:24pm
An attorney representing trainer Bob Baffert on Thursday issued a statement, in the form of a letter to New York Times reporter Joe Drape, calling Drape's article revealing Justify failed a drug test before the 2018 Triple Crown run "long on sensationalism" and "short on facts."

Drape reported that Justify tested positive for a high amount of the banned substance scopolamine, which the New York Times article indicated can act as a bronchodilator on horses and enhance performance.

Craig Robertson III, an Kentucky attorney with the firm Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs, called Drape's reporting "defamatory," saying "no trainer would ever intentionally administer scopolamine to a horse. It has a depressant effect and would do anything but enhance the performance of a horse."

Additionally, Robertson said a decision to not further adjudicate the test, which came following a key Santa Anita Derby (G1) win for Justify, was made by the California Horse Racing Board, not Baffert.

Justify, whose career started in February of 2018, went 6-for-6, with his first two victories in maiden special weight and allowance conditions. He needed to finish first or second in the Santa Anita Derby to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, which he did by winning that race.

RELATED: Baffert says no drug was "intentionally" given to Justify

"I was confident that Mr. Baffert would ultimately prevail if the CHRB pursued the matter," Robertson wrote. "This left the CHRB with two choices -- either pursue a frivolous case that had no merit at great taxpayer expense, or exercise reason and common sense and decide to take no further action.

"The CHRB made the wise decision and should be commended, instead of attacked, for doing so."
According to the Daily Racing Form's Matt Hegarty
scopolamine positives in California racing are not new. In 1994, per DRF, five trainers in California had horses ring up positive tests. Those horses were all disqualified, though the trainers' fines were forgiven.

Robertson called the 
scopolamine "a known environmental contaminant," saying it is contained within jimson weed that grows in California and can mix into horses' feed. That echoed statements made to the Times by CHRB Executive Director Rick Baedeker.

"There is no doubt that, with regard to Justify, the alleged positive was the result of environmental contamination from hay or straw," Robertson's letter says.

While labeling the positive test "alleged," Robertson did delve into Drape's reporting that 300 nanograms per milliliter of Scopolamine were found in Justify's blood. Anything above 75 nanograms per milliliter is typically considered a positive for substances.

"What you fail to inform the reader is that one nanogram is a billionth of a gram," Robertson wrote. "This is one of the problems with modern day testing. It has become so sensitive that we can now detect trace amounts of substances that are consistent with environmental contamination -- not intentional administration -- and clearly have no pharmacological effect on a thousand-pound animal."

In a separate statement, Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack, said Justify's pre- and post-race Kentucky Derby tests came back clean.

“Until media reports surfaced Wednesday night," Flanery said, "neither Churchill Downs nor the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had knowledge of any potential positive tests that may have emanated from California in advance of the 2018 Kentucky Derby."

Justify went on to win the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. The colt, with connections citing swelling in an ankle that would prevent him from making a run at the 2018 Breeders' Cup Classic, retired him following the Triple Crown series.

Drape tweeted Thursday that he did not personally receive the letter from Baffert's attorney as it circulated media.

"I'm not hard to find, either," the reporter posted on social media. "Bob has my email and cell. In fact, tried to talk to him repeatedly before this story ran."

Drape's reporting sparked conversations about what this means for the industry: a drug positive for a Hall of Fame trainer, and a California Horse Racing Board dealing with allegations that it did not follow proper protocol with a high-profile colt.

In the end, Coolmore paid a reported $75 million for breeding rights to an unbeaten Triple Crown winner who broke the Kentucky Derby's so-called curse of Apollo, becoming its first winner having not run at age 2 since 1882.

Coolmore's Tom Magnier tweeted overnight that "i
t would be inappropriate for us to comment, as we were not involved with Justify then. One thing’s for sure: We’re not giving him back!"


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