Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant said there were no grounds to delay the hearing, set for Oct. 29. In addition to Justify, stablemate Hoppertunity tested positive for scopolamine, a compound that is naturally present in jimson weed. Though banned, scopolamine is not considered a performance enhancing drug.
On Tuesday, six attorneys representing 10 clients with connections to the horses — including trainer Bob Baffert and jockeys Mike Smith and Flavien Prat — filed suit to try to stop the California Horse Racing Board from holding a hearing into the positive tests. Among the named attorneys in the 428-page filing was Abbe Lowell, known for defending many high-profile clients including Charles Keating, Jared Kushner and John Edwards.
What’s at stake is the $600,000 first-place purse money in the Santa Anita Derby, which was won by Justify. If Justify were to be disqualified, he would no longer be the only career undefeated winner of the Triple Crown. The petitioners argued that the disqualification would hurt the breeding value of Justify.
The CHRB concluded that the positive drug test was the result of accidental contamination of the horses' feed. However, industry standards hold trainers responsible for all aspects of the care of horses in their barns, regardless of their involvement or knowledge. There were seven horses in five barns at Santa Anita that tested positive during that time. Not every horse is tested after a race.
The CHRB originally declined to pursue the case against Baffert and his two horses, but Mick Ruis, owner and trainer of Bolt d’Oro, the second-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby, filed suit against the state regulatory board. As part of a settlement that did not include monetary damages, the CHRB agreed to reopen hearings on the drug tests.
It is unclear if the hearing could result in the disqualification of Justify. Since the positive test in 2018, scopolamine has been reclassified, and positive tests now result in disqualification.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.