Bombshell Report On Triple Crown Winner Justify

Horse racing needs unified and uniform rules governing the entire sport.

Jim Rome
September 12, 2019 - 10:42 am

USA Today


Remember when Justify won the 150th Belmont Stakes last June to win the Triple Crown? Remember what an incredible moment that was?


Turns out that maybe that never should’ve happened. Because according to a bombshell that the New York Times dropped late yesterday, Justify failed a drug test one month before the Kentucky Derby.

And that means that Justify was running in the Derby weeks after a failed drug test. And that would kind of change the story a little bit. Kind of changes how the Derby win feels, might eliminate the Triple Crown conversation, and undoubtedly impacts the sale of his breeding rights which reportedly went for $60 million dollars.  Because the real money in this sport is not made in racing but rather in breeding.

Having the 13th winner of the Triple Crown connected to a drug scandal is bad, but it gets worse. Because according to the New York Times, the rules of the sport were not followed. “Instead of the failed drug test causing a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board took more than a month to confirm the results. Then, instead of filing a public complaint as it usually does, the board made a series of decisions behind closed doors as it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for any horse found to have the banned substance that Justify tested positive for in its system.”

That’s not good. That’s really, really, really not good.

The story goes on to lay out what happened. On April 7, 2018, Justify won the Santa Anita Derby and then tested positive for  SKA-POLE-A-MEAN scopolamine, which can clear a horse’s airway and help its heart rate.

Now…here’s where it gets a little sketchy…possibly.  Scopolamine can also be found in jimson weed, which in turn can be found in the horse’s food, which makes rulings related to scopolamine tests tricky.

Normal procedure at that point would be to strip the win, the prize money, and the spot in the Kentucky Derby. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, according to the Times, regulators waited three weeks, until shortly before the Derby, to alert trainer Bob Baffert to the failed test. As is allowed, Baffert requested another sample be tested.

And three days after Justify won the Derby, the second test confirmed the first.

But then things got weird. Instead of taking action right then, which would involve the filing of a complaint and a hearing, nothing happened. According to the Times, in August, “Four months later — and more than two months after Justify, Baffert and the horse’s owners celebrated their Triple Crown victory in New York — the board disposed of the inquiry altogether during a closed-door executive session. It decided, with little evidence, that the positive test could have been a result of Justify’s eating contaminated food. The board voted unanimously to dismiss the case. In October, it changed the penalty for a scopolamine violation to the lesser penalty of a fine and possible suspension.”

In truth, it’s probably not accurate to say that the mattered would’ve been resolved by the running of the Derby, but not following normal procedures, waiting four months after the test and two months after the Triple Crown was won, and dismissing the case behind closed door is not awesome. The optics are horrible.

There could be a good reason for that, but there better be an awesome explanation. Because what it looks like to any casual observer is that the failed drug test was buried.

And here’s another question – why did it take so long for this to come out? Why are we only hearing about this now, nearly a year and a half after the failed test and more than a year after the case was dismissed?

Maybe the failed test really was the result of contaminated food, but that excuse doesn’t hold a lot of water when boxers or cyclists blame tainted beef. So people will, fairly or unfairly, reach the conclusion that horse racing went all Bud Selig on it and ignored cheating in order to allow an exciting result.

Because by the time the case was dismissed, Justify had won the Triple Crown and his breeding rights had been sold for $60 million. He currently receives as much as 150 grand for a mating, which adds up to 450 grand per day over the five month season, which means that the 60 mill has already been made back.

As you know, I’ve owned race horses. We still have a couple. I’ve had some great times and some truly terrible, gut-wrenching times in the sport. When horse racing is good, it’s glorious. And when it’s bad, it’s terrible.

I’ll be real – I love the sport. But I’ll also be real and say this: like any sport, it has its issues. And those issues need to be addressed. And for anyone who cares about the sport and cares about the horses, this is bad. Because it takes one of the greatest moments in recent memory and puts it in a bad light.

There are a ton of questions and people should start coming forward with really good answers.

This is not a new idea, but it’s the most important one: horse racing needs unified and uniform rules governing the entire sport. They can’t just go track by track and state by state.  Each entity can’t just make up its own rules.  Instead of doing what it always does and just hoping this just blows over and everyone moves on to the next thing, the sport needs to take a hard line.  It needs to make a stand.  For honesty. And integrity.  And unless that changes, the sport remains in grave danger.  Because, again, when it’s good, its’ great, but when it’s bad, it’s terrible.