CHRB Denies Stay of Justify Decision, Will Entertain Appeal

Justify in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby | Benoit

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In the latest detour in the exhaustive legal saga stemming from Justify's 2018 GI Santa Anita Derby win, the connections of the horse during his racing career filed a notice last week with the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) requesting that the agency entertain an appeal of a recent board of stewards decision disqualifying the horse from the race and to stay the purse distribution.

In response, the CHRB have denied a stay of the stewards' decision but stated that it will “assign a Hearing Officer in this matter where the issue of timeliness of the appeal and appeal itself will be heard and a proposed decision submitted to the Board for consideration,” according to an order issued by the CHRB Tuesday.

The plaintiffs in the appeal are owners China Horse Club International Limited, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing, WinStar Farm, jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert.

After the New York Times first reported that Justify had tested positive post-race for scopolamine, Mick Ruis, owner-trainer of the runner-up that day, Bolt d'Oro, sought to have the result of the race overturned with Bolt d'Oro declared the winner.

Ruis alleged that the CHRB failed to follow its own rules when it decided not to pursue penalties after Justify's positive test. The CHRB argued that Justify should not be disqualified because the positive test was the result of contamination linked to jimson weed.

At the end of last year, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ordered the CHRB to set aside the stewards' 2020 decision and issue a new ruling disqualifying winner Justify from the Santa Anita Derby.

Early in March, the CHRB reached a separate settlement that called for the agency to pay Ruis $300,000, and to order a redistribution of the $1-million purse.

In last week's notice, Amanda Groves, who represents Justify's connections, argued that grounds for an appeal included how the plaintiffs were not a party to the lawsuit between Ruis and the CHRB, leading to “Procedural irregularities and denial of due process and/or a fair and impartial hearing.”

Groves also reiterated the CHRB's original claim, writing that “it is undisputed that the positive scopolamine test was a result of environmental contamination due to inadvertent exposure to jimsonweed in hay/straw.”

BloodHorse reported that Ruis's attorneys had filed a response arguing that none of the grounds raised in the appeal are relevant.

When asked about the contents of the letter, Darrell Vienna, who represents Ruis, told the TDN that the CHRB issued the disqualification order “because they were ordered to do so by the court.”

The court did not demand that the CHRB hold another hearing on the matter, Vienna added. “It just issued an order to disqualify the horse, Justify, and to redistribute the purse,” he said.

“If the Justify parties have issue with that, that issue should be addressed at the Superior Court, in my opinion,” said Vienna. “If the court orders a subordinate agency to do something, they must do it.”

According to last week's notice of appeal, Justify's first-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby accrued the owners a combined $585,000, while Smith and Baffert each received $58,450.

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