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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

BOB BAFFERT’S TRAVAILS BECOME MAJOR DISTRACTION ON THE EVE OF BREEDERS’ CUP

Breeders’ Cup pre-entries will be released Wednesday morning and for the second all-time leading Breeders’ Cup trainer with 15 victories, along with two Triple Crown sweeps and six Kentucky Derbies, the highly visible Bob Baffert is much in the news these days.

But the stories are not pretty ones. Drug positives this year concerning several of Baffert’s high-profile horses, including a test result that became known last week, has put the Hall of Famer and the sport that’s trying to curry favor and seek redemption from the public on trial.

Two respected journalists; Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier-Journal, and Natalie Voss of Paulick Report, recently reported on disparate developments yet their reportage is inexorably linked:

Sullivan covered the Gamine/Kentucky Oaks positive, one that is awaiting the results from a split sample at a second laboratory. The betamethasone infraction was the only positive result from 89 horses tested after competing at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby weekend.

On the heels of the Kentucky Racing Commission’s positive findings Grade 1-winning Gamine, Voss revealed, according to an advance release of a California Horse Racing Board Report, that more than half of 256 Thyroxine prescriptions this year came from two unidentified barns.

Further revealed was that three veterinarians allegedly were responsible for writing 80 percent of those prescriptions, and that  new diagnostic standards for thyroxine use in California could be initiated after the CHRB report suggested that “some trainers are ignoring board warnings about overuse of thyroxine.”

Fans and bettors first became aware of the medication and its potential for abuse after an undercover video from a Steve Asmussen barn worker, operating as an undercover agent for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, infiltrated the Asmussen barn.

Hall of Famer Asmussen, who recently saddled his 9,000th career winner, is on track to become the winningest trainer in the history of Thoroughbred racing.

The surreptitious video came replete with audio of top assistant Scott Blasi’s explaining to the covert operative how thyroxine, intended as a hypothyroid therapeutic, works as a performance enhancer by artificially speeding up a horse’s metabolism.

Absent validated medical need, thyroxine has been abused when used as a dietary supplement. The drug gained national focus in 2013 when the CHRB investigated seven Thoroughbred sudden deaths over an 18-month period. All seven were trained by Baffert.

During the course of the investigation, Baffert revealed that all the horses in his care were administered thyroxine orally as a matter of routine, placing it in feed tubs in the manner one would add any other dietary supplement.

However, the tendency to use thyroxine as a supplement rather than therapeutically extends well beyond one or two barns. Reported Voss:

“The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and American Association of Equine Practitioners put out an advisory earlier this year emphasizing to trainers that thyroxine is a drug which should be given based on a medical diagnosis, not a wellness product to be distributed to the whole shedrow.”

But according to CHRB rules governing medication use, it is also stated that neither name of the horse nor the connections involved in an ongoing investigation may be revealed.

Gamine’s second positive of 2020 has drawn comments from several horsemen—a group normally loath to speaking on the record, one racetrack organization and, as one would expect, animal rights groups.

“The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission should address the latest drug violations swiftly and harshly,” said Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, “and should issue proper penalties immediately following its investigation. Without meaningful consequences… American horse racing will continue to suffer setbacks…”

Speaking for PETA, Vice President Kathy Guillermo told the Courier-Journal that “if the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission finds that Gamine was the victim of a medication abuse, it should take swift action to ensure Baffert never races in Kentucky again. The welfare of the horses, not the fame of the trainer, must be the first consideration.”

Said trainer Mick Ruis of the recent Baffert revelation, “the chickens are coming home to roost.”

Ruis’s Bolt d’Oro finished second to Justify in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby. Justify went to win that year’s Triple Crown for Baffert despite a Santa Anita Derby post-race positive, information that was withheld by the CHRB until after the Kentucky Derby.

Justify would not have made it into the Derby starting gate without 100 qualifying points earned for his Santa Anita Derby victory. The incident went unrecorded until the New York Times broke the story in 2019. Ruis is suing for the winner’s share of the purse.

Before the failed Oaks Day drug test could be traced conclusively to the Baffert barn, Churchill Downs, reported Sullivan, responded to an inquiry about the infraction with a statement “full of indignation and condemnation. It read in part:

“ ‘We have long advocated for strict regulations… Noncompliance is cheating and it jeopardizes the well-being of the horses and fairness in our sport. It cannot be tolerated…’ Churchill stood by that statement [made a month earlier] even though it casts thoroughbred racing’s most famous figure as a cheat.” [brackets mine]

Said Barry Irwin, owner-breeder of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom: “This whole thing points out that [racing] needs to rein this thing in… I think he thinks he’s gotten bigger than the game… Currently, most of my horses race in Europe. I’m sick and tired of running here in America against guys that cheat.”

Databases of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and the Jockey Club are incomplete but taken together show that Baffert has had at least 30 previous medication violations during his career involving a dozen different drugs, said the Courier-Journal.

In a subsequent story, Sullivan wrote: “However plausible, Baffert’s explanations might be more persuasive if they were less frequent. Gamine tested positive at Churchill Downs only four months after both she and Charlatan tested positive for lidocaine on Arkansas Derby Day, and less than a year after the New York Times revealed a positive test had been concealed…”

With the advent of Breeders’ Cup, there has been a heightened awareness of horseracing among sports fans on Twitter, arguably the sport’s most important social media platform.

In a liked retweet, @Joseph Lucibello wrote:

“Gamine, a three year old filly who has raced five times… FIVE … needed corticosteroid injection in August?

“Sad for her … and for our sport. What’s wrong with Thoroughbred physiology, training, and racing conditions if such a young and lightly-raced horse needs this?”

@Maxwins (in a retweet, from Two Gun Sid)

“Racing needs a drug positive task force – it can be modeled after VP Pence’s coronavirus task force. Meet every day for a while, then declare victory and quietly stop meeting.”

@Two Gun Sid

“Good luck with that Jorge … so sorry, I mean Jason… oops, sorry, I mean Bob.”

@Mary Ann in a liked @johnpricci retweet

“ICYMI: With another of his horses failing a drug test, trainer Bob Baffert will test thoroughbred racing’s commitment to reform.”

@Bens Bombs

“These violations by Bobby White Hair are putting the final nail in the racing industry, a friend that does not bet or follow racing asks me why don’t the racing officials just shut him down?”

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

85 Responses

  1. Mark, that’s why it’s out there, one of those ICYMI posts. Fans and bettors should know the latest developments…

  2. John: Thanks for summing up the Baffert “problem”. As I wrote yesterday, WE, the betting public, have the absolute right to know what is going on with Baffert’s horses, especially the three that are going to run in the Classic. You brought up Masochistic yesterday. He should not have been permitted to run in the Sprint, but Ron Ellis nearly lost his business from that incident. However, it was an outlier, in what has been a mostly honorable career. Baffert gets chance after chance, attempts to blame everyone but Jack the Ripper for his misdeeds, and is still extolled by the racing industry. Its unjust and unfair. Nevertheless, the Baffert dossier is Exhibit A for why HISA is so long overdue. A National organization, compiling meaningful records, and imposing REAL discipline, is just a step in the right direction. A further step, as has been advocated by Pat Cummings, and the TIF, is complete transparency with respect to VET records. The entire industry, including bettors, breeders, buyers, and horsemen, would finally have all of the pertinent information that all of the not so ethical insiders have long possessed. It can’t happen soon enough!

  3. Fram,

    It passed the House, but everything gets roadblocked in the Senate. Hopefully sooner rather than later for HISA to become law.

  4. If the Stewards and protective Boards and Authorities of the racing industry do not possess the intestinal fortitude to enforce common sense regulation for the benefit and protection of all involved, I will simply enforce my own discipline this Breeders Cup by simply allowing a disciplined mindset and vowing not to wager on any BC race in which I see a possible perception of fraud I will treat as a non-wager. Just maybe if enough monies were retained from the wagering pools, just maybe someone will get the idea we are all collectively “We ARE MAD AS HELL, AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE! Clean the sport of the rascals involved or just terminate it.

    Hall of Fame or Hall of Shame? In summation, for those who don’t quite get it, ENOUGH is ENOUGH.

    1. If the internet been around the olden days of the original and best of them all “Oscar”, either racings drug and or doping problem would have been gone, or racing would have disappeared ( glad that it didn’t) even with the cheating.

      1. Mark, hear you loud and clear. Do you know how difficult and frustrating it is to move the needle from this end? I too am glad it hasn’t disappeared but where there’s money–1% owners and breeders–in partnerships yet–are hard to beat with good intentions and the written word.

        Did you see where the CHRB concluded its Justify and Hopportunity investigations but a decision will be forthcoming in the future, not now. I’m thinking Christmas holiday season, when interest is at its lowest…

  5. Lucy, Shell, you’re preaching to the choir.

    Now that the Senate has fixed the Supreme Court, perhaps it can get around doing something for citizens, animals, and the industry they both support, which provides no small revenue stream to federal and state governments.

  6. John, Any news on why Shedaresthedevil is not entered in BC races. I checked both the F&M Sprint (Gamine) and Distaff (Valliance) and could not find her. She won KY Oaks so I figured she would be entered for BC. Thanks.

  7. If you ain’t cheating you’ re not trying to win, Greedy proverb, maybe followed by NE Patriots’ coach Balacheat,2018 Houston Astros. Also check MJ’ rules and Irad Ortiz’ s riding at the stretch.So what is New about a horse trainer cheating? The punishment rarely fits the crime,,,when they get caught. It also happens in life,religion,politics ,relationships and court houses. Nothing personal,it’s s all for the money and the “Juice” of doing it.

  8. ***In case other readers are wondering, the Spam posts referred to by Mal were deleted

    P.S. Having Word Press people look at back-end issue, mea culpa for Spam interference recently.

  9. Exhibiting all the class of an unflushed toilet, the offensive commentary rages on. Shame you don’t have your own board to piss off on. I take it within your mindset, the left also bucked up the post office as well. Wonder what’s worse, the impact of the damn covid test results or the damn mail in voters? Communist bastards all of them. After we lock up Biden, let’s take down Pricci and all the other lefties too. Where the hell is William Barr?

  10. As a female Owner, Trainer and Breeder I have no chance at all due to the fixing of races to keep females down in this business. My horse was drugged in two graded races because of my sex. I have news for the good old boys in the horse business, you and Pharmacy Bob are going down and I will fight forever to accomplish this end. Good Luck to all the cheaters because you belong in a Federal prison and that is where you are all going. The Truth shall win out and Justice will be done!!!

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