By Dan Ross
In a press release Monday, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) announced that it had amended its ongoing Statement of Charges issued against trainer Bob Baffert to include a pair of positive tests for phenylbutazone (bute) in 2019 in California and a subsequent inspection of the trainer's barn which allegedly uncovered an unlocked medication cabinet, improperly labeled medications and the presence of unsecured phenylbutazone paste.
NYRA has charged Baffert with engaging in conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing and has sought to temporarily ban the trainer from its tracks. A hearing on the matter is scheduled to begin Jan. 24.
Dr. Rick Arthur, who was the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) equine medical director at the time of the 2019 violations, told TDN Monday that barn inspections are “routine” after a post-race medication positive, and that there is no regulatory requirement for drug cabinets to be locked, even though the board strongly encourages medications to be securely stored.
Arthur also explained that the proper labeling of medications is primarily the veterinarian's responsibility, and that a crucial question is: What were the mislabeled drugs?
“If it's Gastrogard tubes out of the box,” said Arthur Monday, pointing to a commonly used ulcer medication, “it's a technical violation, and not a serious one at all. If it was serious, an official warning or complaint would have been filed against either the trainer or the dispensing veterinarian.”
The investigation reports for the barn inspections–obtained through a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request–shed some light on the nature of NYRA's amended complaint but fail to answer the issue of what the mislabeled drugs actually were.
No subsequent warnings or complaints were filed against either Baffert or the attending veterinarian, Dr. Vince Baker, however.
The Del Mar barn inspection identified by the NYRA press release pertains to the one conducted Aug. 16, after the Baffert-trained Eclair (Bernardini) tested positive for bute after finishing 4th at Del Mar Aug. 3. Baffert was fined $1,500. Eclair tested positive with 2.88 micrograms per milliliter (ug/mL) of bute in her system.
According to the report, the investigator found “25 different kinds of medications that are not properly labeled and expired. There is no lock on the medication cabinet however the tack room door has lock capabilities. Dr. Vince Baker advised he would be taking care of the situation.”
According to the report, Baker told the investigator he did not know how Eclair tested positive for bute. “Baffert stated he thinks someone is intentionally giving bute to his horses and mentioned that he would be offering a reward to help solve the case,” the report added.
According to the report, Baker told the investigator he had treated Eclair no later than 10:30 am two days before the race.
Baker also told the investigator that he treated other Baffert runners with bute the following day, but that he “does not believe he inadvertently treated 'Eclair' by mistake,” according to the report.
The CHRB conducted a separate inspection of Baffert's Del Mar barn Aug. 10, after Cruel Intention (Smiling Tiger) tested positive for bute after finishing 3rd at Del Mar July 27 in the Real Good Deal S.
Baffert was fined $500. Cruel Intention tested positive with 0.51 ug/mL of bute in his system.
In light of the Santa Anita welfare crisis the spring of 2019, the CHRB reduced just months earlier the permissible level of race-day bute from 2 ug/mL to a level of non-detect.
Six days prior to the second barn inspection, the CHRB investigator found “expired medications and those that were up to date were properly labeled. There is no lock on the medication cabinet however the door has lock capabilities,” according to the inspection report.
According to the report, Baker told the investigator he treated three of Baffert's horses at the same time with bute, “and does not know why only one horse [Cruel Intention] tested positive for it.”