By Sue Finley
The disqualifications of Charlatan (Speightstown) and Gamine (Into Mischief) from May 2, 2020 wins at Oaklawn Park have been overturned, and Bob Baffert's 15-day suspension has been waived after a two-day hearing in front of the Arkansas Racing Commission.
Charlatan was the winner of the GI Arkansas Derby, while Gamine won an allowance race the same day. Oaklawn announced lidocaine positives for the pair, disqualified them from the victories, and redistributed purse money last year.
Tuesday, at the conclusion of the hearing, Baffert's attorney, W. Craig Robertson, said, “The ruling is that Charlatan and Gamine's wins are reinstated. There will be no suspension for Bob. There will be a $5,000 fine for Bob for each horse, for a total of a $10,000 fine.”
Robertson had argued that the positives were a result of Baffert's assistant, Jimmy Barnes, inadvertently contaminating the horses because he was wearing a Salonpas patch, and that the lidocaine was transferred from his hands to the horses. Moreover, he argued that the trace amounts of the drug were so low that they couldn't have been performance-enhancing.
Of the hearing, Robertson said, “There wasn't a whole lot of discussion. But basically, as I understood what they were saying, they felt like there were problems with the testing, and that it was clear that at these levels, there would have been no pharmacology in the horse, so no performance-enhancing effect on the outcome of the race.
“I told them that there were seven reasons why they needed to dismiss the matter,” Robertson continued. “In broad strokes: there were a lot of admitted errors in the testing and with the testing laboratory, and broadly, my argument was that you could not rely upon the test results given all the admitted errors and mistakes. An additional argument was that there was no pharmacology and so they needed to consider all the factors.”
Robertson said that he was relieved for Baffert, who lived with something of a cloud over his head in 2020 due to the disqualifications and to the revelation that Justify had incurred a scopolamine positive in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby. A complaint by trainer Mick Ruis in that case was dismissed by the CHRB.
“I'm elated,” said Robertson. “I'm mostly happy for Bob, because this has been hanging over his head, and I feel it's been hanging over his head unfairly. We felt all along if we could get in front of the commission and present all of the facts and all of the evidence, that we had a compelling case. Now that doesn't mean you're always going to get the result you want, but this time we did and I'm thrilled.”
Reached as he was boarding a plane to return to California, Baffert said, “I'm happy with the result and it has really been wearing on us–on Jimmy and us–and us and it's nice to see that the horses were rewarded for their performances. They need to have this conversation about the testing. They need to be more precise about it. I feel like trainers are sitting ducks. These contamination levels, they're testing at these levels, and it's tough. It's been a very demanding year.”
Baffert said that because the public only gets part of the story, there's often an immediate presumption of guilt when the initial story is published.
“We weren't at fault, but public perception doesn't know that because they don't know what's going on,” he said. “I don't want to be painted with that brush. You just have to be careful it doesn't happen again, but racing regulators need to figure out the science.”
He referenced Gamine's disqualification from the GI Kentucky Oaks after she tested positive for betamethasone, a permitted medication in Kentucky, but with a mandated two-week withdrawal time. Craig Robertson said she was given the drug 18 days before the race.
“With Gamine and the betamethasone, we did everything by the rules and we still got in trouble,” said Baffert.
Robertson said that he was relieved to put this behind them and move on.
“The two big issues that were hanging over him were Justify and Charlatan and he has been exonerated in both cases,” said Robertson. “It's the just result and I'm really just thrilled for him. I'm grateful that the Arkansas Racing Commission stewards took the time and carefully considered the evidence and rendered a fair decision.”