Justify, the colt who won horse racing's Triple Crown in 2018, tested positive for a banned drug weeks before winning the first race of the trifecta, the Kentucky Derby, The New York Times reported Wednesday night, citing documents and interviews. The California Horse Racing Board discovered potentially performance-enhancing amounts of scopolamine in Justify's samples after he won the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, the Times reports. The test results should have disqualified Justify from racing in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, meaning he would not have won the coveted the Triple Crown.
Instead, the Times says, the California Horse Racing Board — whose chairman, Rick Baedeker, owns an interest in other horses trained by Justify's Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert — waited 19 days to inform Baffert and fellow board members of the test results. The CHRB didn't confirm the results until May 8, after Justify had won the Kentucky Derby. And instead of filing a public complaint, as would normally be done, the CHRB quietly decided to drop the case in a closed-door executive meeting on Aug. 23, long after Justify had won the final Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes, on June 9.
Baedeker told the Times that regulators had treaded carefully because scopolamine can be found jimson weed and there was a possibility of "environmental contamination" in Justify's feed. Other horses in the Santa Anita Derby also tested positive for small, non-disqualifying amounts of scopolamine, Baedeker said, without providing evidence. Dr. Rick Sams, who ran the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's drug lab from 2011 to 2018, told the Times that based on the large amount of scopolamine found in Justify, "I think it has to come from intentional intervention." Read more about the case, and how it could spoil Justify's happy ending, at The New York Times.