Justify's win in 2018 Santa Anita Derby in doubt after judge's ruling

Justify, the undefeated Triple Crown winner in 2018, might not be undefeated for much longer. Or will he?

On Friday, in a case that has been going on for four years, L.A. Superior Court judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled that the potential disqualification of Justify, after winning the Santa Anita Derby in 2018, be sent back to the Board of Stewards to rule that the horse had an illegal medication in his system when he ran the race.

What is unclear is if this will have any bearing on Justify’s win in the Kentucky Derby, the first step to winning the Triple Crown. If the colt had been disqualified from the Santa Anita Derby, even though the timing was such that it would have been near impossible to issue such a ruling, then he wouldn’t have been eligible to run in the Derby. Justify retired after winning the Triple Crown in only six races.

A message to a Churchill Downs official was not immediately returned.

The suit, made by Mick Ruis, owner and trainer of second-place finisher Bolt d’Oro, was not against trainer Bob Baffert or the owners of Justify but against the California Horse Racing Board, which allegedly took the ruling away from the stewards and decided that the horse would not be disqualified.

There has been no implication of wrongdoing on the part of any of the horse’s connections after it was determined that the horse was a victim of contamination in his feed. Other horses in the area also tested positive for the prohibited substance scopolamine, which is not considered a traditional performance enhancer.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Justify, except his win in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby,” said attorney Darrell Vienna, who represented Ruis.

About $400,000 is at stake in the ruling, the difference in purse money between first and second place.

“I’m really pleased that justice was finally done,” Vienna said. “It always been a rule that if a horse carries an illegal substance, it must be disqualified.”

There is also unresolved civil litigation, which could impose damages, attorneys fees and other financial consequences.

“We don’t have a comment other than no decisions have been made regarding next steps,” said Scott Chaney, executive director of the CHRB.

The case had to deal with the allegation that the CHRB took the decision on Justify’s positive test away from the stewards, instead relying on the analysis of Dr. Rick Arthur, then the equine medical director of the CHRB, that the horse ingested the substance by accident.

Ruis contended in his suit that it didn’t matter how the horse received the substance, only that he had it in his system when he won. The stewards did not issue a ruling on the positive because it was their belief that the decision had been taken from them.

The judge disagreed and set aside the stewards’ previous decision to not issue a ruling and asked them to issue a new ruling. According to a news release, paraphrasing the judge, “There is ‘no doubt’ the stewards would have disqualified Justify if they understood that they had the authority to do so.”

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