by Bill Finley and Dan Ross
The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has amended its Statement of Charges issued against trainer Bob Baffert to include a pair of positive tests for phenylbutazone that occurred in 2019 in California and a subsequent inspection of the trainer's barn in which it alleges that 25 improperly labeled medications were found.
NYRA's Statement of Charges now contains allegations that, over a 16-month period prior to the 2021 GI Kentucky Derby, six horses under Baffert's care violated rules and regulations in six separate races.
Having charged Baffert with engaging in conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing, NYRA has sought to temporarily ban the trainer from its tracks. A hearing on the matter is scheduled to begin Jan. 24.
Baffert has had numerous drug positives in recent years, including the finding that Medina Spirit (Protonico) had the substance betamethasone in his system when winning the 2021 GI Kentucky Derby.
After a July 27, 2019 race at Del Mar the gelding Cruel Intention (Smiling Tiger) tested positive for a bute overage and Baffert was fined $500. One week later, the Baffert-trained Eclair (Bernardini) also tested positive for bute and Baffert was fined $2,500.
While the two bute overages were not new news, the details of the barn inspection had not previously been made public. According to the Statement of Charges, Baffert's barn was inspected by the CHRB on or about Aug. 16, 2019 and the inspection “revealed that 25 medications were not properly labeled and there was no lock on the medication cabinet.” NYRA also claims that Baffert told the CHRB that he did not know how the bute got into the horses' systems and said that he would be offering a reward to solve the case.
Rick Arthur, who was the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) equine medical director at the time of the violations, told the TDN that, while he couldn't remember specifics of the case, such barn inspections are “routine” after a post-race medication positive to “try to identify potential sources of the violation and advise trainers how to better manage their stables.”
Arthur added that there is no regulatory requirement for drug cabinets to be locked, even though the board strongly encourages medications to be securely stored.
Furthermore, the proper labeling of medications is primarily the veterinarian's responsibility, Arthur said, and that a crucial question is: What were the mislabeled drugs?
“If it's Gastrogard tubes out of the box,” said Arthur, 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 amended charges also cite a rule change implemented by Churchill Downs in which no horses trained by Baffert are eligible to earn points for the Derby or the GI Kentucky Oaks and Baffert's claims that he would hire a veterinarian to ensure against future rule violations. The veterinarian, Dr. Michael Hore, was never hired.
In addition to conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing, NYRA is charging Baffert with conduct detrimental to the health and safety of horses and jockeys and conduct detrimental to NYRA business operations.
Peter Sherwood, a retired New York State Supreme Court Justice, will serve as hearing officer in the Baffert matter.
By deadline for this story, Baffert's attorney Craig Robertson had not returned a phone call seeking comment.