The New York Times says Justify won the 2018 Triple Crown after a failed postrace drug test at a California track that could have kept the horse out of the Kentucky Derby.
The newspaper reported Wednesday that Bob Baffert-trained Justify tested positive for the drug scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby in April 2018. It was one of the final prep races for the Kentucky Derby.
Scopolamine is considered a performance-enhancing drug for race horses, CBS Sports points out.
After the race Baffert – the legendary trainer – exulted in victory, CBS Los Angeles reports. "I think this horse, what he did today, shows us his natural talent," Baffert said. "He's so talented."
Justify went on to win the Derby and took the Preakness and Belmont stakes to complete the Triple Crown.
The Times said instead of a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board took more than a month to confirm the results. The newspaper also reported that instead of filing a public complaint, the board made decisions behind closed doors as it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for horses found to have scopolamine in their systems.
The newspaper said test results, emails and internal memorandums show how California regulators waited nearly three weeks, until the Kentucky Derby was only nine days away, to notify Baffert of the positive test. Then, two months after the Belmont victory, the board disposed of the inquiry altogether during a closed-door executive session.
"We take seriously the integrity of horse racing in California and are committed to implementing the highest standards of safety and accountability for all horses, jockeys and participants," the California Horse Racing Board said in a statement.
The Times quotes the board's executive director, Rick Baedeker as saying, "There was no way that we could have come up with an investigative report prior to the Kentucky Derby. That's impossible. Well, that's not impossible, that would have been careless and reckless for us to tell an investigator what usually takes you two months, you have to get done in five days, eight days. We weren't going to do that."
A CHRB spokesman said the organization would have a further statement Thursday.
According to CBS L.A., People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a statement saying in part that, "This nasty cover-up has cheated the betting public and the true winners of the Santa Anita and Kentucky derbies. (Bob) Baffert should be suspended and held accountable, and Justify should be disqualified from the Triple Crown victory."
The Times said Baffert didn't respond to multiple attempts seeking comment.