It appears as if Justify’s Triple Crown will stand and is not in jeopardy in light of the horse’s impending disqualification in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby.
L.A. County Superior Court judge Michael Beckloff ruled Friday that the California Horse Racing Board stewards should make an order to disqualify Justify some five years after he won the race before the Kentucky Derby. If the then 3-year-old colt had been disqualified after testing positive for an illegal drug, which was caused by feed contamination, he would not have had the qualifying points to run in the Kentucky Derby.
One mitigating fact is that there was virtually no way that disqualification could wend its way through the regulatory process in time to disqualify Justify before the first Saturday in May.
“There are new rules and requirements in place since 2018 to prevent a scenario like this in the future, which is the important thing, so we don’t plan to revisit history in terms of the Kentucky Derby winner,” Tonya Abein, a vice president at Churchill Downs Inc., told the website Horseracingnation on Saturday.
The reason it was a question has been the contentious relationship between CDI and Justify trainer Bob Baffert. CDI suspended Baffert for two years from its tracks after 2021 Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a legal medication that is banned on race day. Baffert has unsuccessfully appealed the decision at every turn, saying the prohibited substance, betamethasone, was applied in a topical fashion for a rash rather than injected into a joint to ease discomfort.
Churchill Downs extended the ban at least one more year, which would exclude Baffert from next year’s Derby, despite the fact that the trainer has no medication violations in any state since Medina Spirit. CDI indicated it lengthened the penalty because Baffert has not shown enough contrition.
The legal ruling on Friday had nothing to do with Baffert but was instead the result of a suit filed by Mick Ruis, owner and trainer of second-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby, Bolt d’Oro, against the CHRB. The judge agreed that the CHRB violated procedure by summarily dismissing any culpability against Justify and Baffert.
“I’m really pleased that justice was finally done,” attorney Darrell Vienna told The Times on Friday. “It always been a rule that if a horse carries an illegal substance it must be disqualified.”
Vienna added that there was no intention to change anything about Justify’s career except in regard to the Santa Anita Derby.
The decision was about $400,000, the difference between first- and second-place finishes in the race. However, civil litigation regarding compensatory damages, legal fees and other financial considerations are still in play. The finish did not keep Bolt d’Oro from running in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 12th.
At the time, Chuck Winner, who was chairman of the CHRB, told The Times there was “overwhelming evidence that Justify, along with six other horses in four different barns at Santa Anita, ingested scopolamine from jimson weed, which was present in the hay that had been delivered to the barns.”
Winner added, “It would have been a complete miscarriage of justice for the CHRB to have taken action against Justify or Baffert, knowing full well that the horse was poisoned by an environmental contaminate and not injected with a substance.”
Winner, 81, died last year.
Scopolamine is not considered a performance enhancer in the traditional sense of boosting a horse’s ability to improve their performance.
The court ruled that the CHRB should have sent the decision first to the Board of Stewards rather than taking it upon itself to circumvent what would be the normal process.
The CHRB has not decided if it wants to appeal the decision.
If Justify is disqaulified, as ordered by the court, the major impact would be that the horse would no longer be undefeated in his six races.