Baffert: Too Big to Fail?
He won the Triple Crown...twice. He changed the horse racing industry when he made the jump over to thoroughbred racing from quarter horse racing. But now he faces his biggest obstacle and it's not coming from a horse. It's coming from New York, in the form of a perennial media giant - The New York Times.
The New York Times has called out Baffert again for the second time. The first time was back in September when the newspaper asked for a formal investigation into the Triple Crown winner Justify, saying the horse failed a drug test after winning a derby prep race back in 2018. Now, The Times claims that two positive tests have been reported. Keep in mind that the cited claims are from several nameless sources. These same sources state the tests came during the closing day card at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas on May 2, 2020.
The New York Times reported the first horse to test positive was Charlatan, an unbeaten colt, reasoned to be the favorite for the Belmont Stakes on June 20, this year's first race of the triple crown.
The Times noted that Baffert's other horse to test positive was Gamine, a 3-year-old filly who won at Oaklawn on the same day. The newspaper specified both equines tested positive for Lidocaine, a regulated anesthetic agent widely used in equine medicine. Lidocaine is a Class 2 drug defined by the Association of Racing, and using it comes with a punishment of suspension lasting up to 2 months and a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense along with the purse money won.
Baffert delivered a message to the public criticizing the leak before the final decision of the stewards.
“The rules of the Arkansas Racing Commission mandate confidentiality concerning any investigation into an alleged rule violation until there is a written decision of the stewards. I am extremely disappointed that, in this instance, the Commission has not followed its own rules on confidentiality....I am hoping for an expedited investigation and look forward to being able to speak soon about any written decision of the stewards, if and when it becomes necessary and I’m allowed to under the Commission’s confidentiality rules,” stated Baffert.
Now before we jump to conclusions and convict Baffert, let's consider the possibilities:
The results from the May 2nd Arkansas Derby day card at Oaklawn Park are still up for alteration. A representative for the Arkansas Racing Commission confirmed Tuesday that the commission is awaiting split-sample tests on the May 2 closing-day card. Whenever a trainer has a horse that tests positive, that trainer is allowed to request a split-test to be done by another laboratory. Until we have confirmation of the Lidocaine in the split sample test, there is no room for speculation.
In a racehorse, lidocaine is injected in a joint or tendon usually within 3 hours of race time to be most potent. In most cases and major stakes races such as the Kentucky Derby prep races, the horses are in a stable surrounded by many people, including security and cameras. Would Baffert really take the chance of injecting his horse 3 hours before a race knowing the consequences?
Lidocaine stays in the horses' system for up to 72 hours and is detectable in a urine test. However, most trainers know that if they use Lidocaine, they can mask results of a horses' urine simply by using epinephrine. It's something that is well-known in the horse racing industry and a top trainer like Baffert would know this. Did Baffert really just simply use lidocaine without trying to cover it up with a form of adrenaline that could ultimately make any horses' urine mask of any drug use?
Is it possible that a veterinarian simply made a mistake and injected the horse with the wrong drug? This happens more than you think in the animal world.
Let's talk about feed. Hordenine is a naturally occurring plant alkaloid produced during the sprouting phase of barley, closely related to Lidocaine, sometimes known as "elephant juice." Could it just be a mix-up with the type of a new feed being used to cause a positive result?
Grooms mess up. I talked with a groom (off the record) who has been in the industry for several years and this is what he had to say: "there's a cut medication we use for horse mouths. So horses tend to get cuts/sores in their mouths from the bits being in their mouth. Pending on the horse- the medication varies in severity, so you try to stay on top of it as it happens because obviously they become very uncomfortable with it. I had another groom go into my office desk and take the medicine and give it to a horse who is racing the same day! It has lidocaine in it. It just takes something simple as that for someone to get a positive. These grooms are robotic and don't know why or what procedure is. It takes something stupid like that to ruin a sport." I asked him how do we fix this issue in horse racing. His response, "Pay the grooms more money and get better help."
So, before we throw Baffert to the wolves and pile on him for something he may not have done, let's give it time and let the details come out. Until we have a better picture of the whole situation, I just simply refuse to believe Baffert is a cheater, until proven otherwise. He has done so much for this sport and he at least deserves this from us… horse racing fans!
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