2018 Triple Crown winner Justify works out at Churchill Downs before shipping to New York for the final race in the Triple Crown series, the Belmont Stakes. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Justify, winner of the 2018 U.S. Triple Crown, tested positive for scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby -- a violation that, in theory, could have resulted in his disqualification from that victory and kept him out of the Kentucky Derby, according to a media report.
Racing officials in California and elsewhere, however, said the theory in this case does not necessarily match the facts. The violation could not have been confirmed in time to strip Justify of the Santa Anita win and, even if confirmed, might not have resulted in a disqualification, anyway.
California racing officials and others pointed out scopolamine is a compound found in jimson weed, which can be mixed in straw used for bedding, arguing the positive test resulted from unintentional contamination.
"I've been fortunate that I've never had one of these before, but I've seen it happen to other trainers out here," Justify's trainer, Bob Baffert, said. "You're holding your breath that it doesn't happen to you, but we're sitting ducks. Contamination is hard to control.
"It's common sense that nobody would intentionally give their horses something like that. I wouldn't do that. When it happened, it was like, 'Seriously? That's ridiculous.' I turned it over to my attorney because I was trying to win a Derby."
A new York Times story noted that the California Horse Racing Board warned trainers in 2016 about the possibility of such accidental contamination of bedding, with resulting positive tests.
The Association of Racing Commissioners International classifies scopolamine as a Class 4, Penalty Class C drug. The penalties for a positive include disqualification of the horse "in the absence of mitigating circumstances."
"The ARCI has no direct knowledge of the specifics of the case involving Justify and does not assume the actions of the CHRB are inconsistent with the Model Rules standard," the organization said in a statement.
Justify was retired after winning the Triple Crown and the CHRB dropped the inquiry without public comment. Elliott Walden, CEO of co-owner WinStar Farm, said it's unfair to the horse to tarnish his image.
"Let me say it this way: He competed in three jurisdictions after this issue and came back negative in all three jurisdictions and won the Triple Crown," Walden said. "His record speaks for itself."