Day At The Track

Bob Pandolfo: Horseracing Integrity/Safety Act

01:28 AM 14 Sep 2020 NZST
Comment (...) Tweet Share Email Print
Bob Baffert, harness racing
Thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert

Tainted Feed, Integrity/Safety Act and Bob Baffert

Last week I ranted about thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert on my Facebook page. This was after Baffert's horse, Authentic, won the Kentucky Derby, Baffert's 6th Derby win. Some people, including a great harness trainer who now writes a column, thought I was being too hard on Baffert. Although I provided some information and links to articles, it was not the full story. This is. You can draw your own conclusions.

This is a timely subject because this week the Senate introduced a bill "The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act", that's been in the works for some time. This bill is designed to create medication and track safety standards for all racetracks. It's unfortunate that the Federal Government has to get involved, but racing's inaction has brought this on. We can't let trainers get away with doping horses. And, quite frankly, the amount of thoroughbreds that have suffered lethal breakdowns in this country is much too high. As most of you know, 27 trainers including several prominent harness trainers were arrested by the FBI for alleged doping earlier this year and more arrests may follow. The cases have been delayed due to Covid-19.

A few years ago, the New York Times published an article, "Breeders Cup - Trainers Aren't Helping As Drugs Damage Sport." On that list, only 5 trainers had more than 20 drug violations, including Baffert. He's had several more drug violations since that article was published. Baffert's frequency of drug violations was 1 in every 545 starts, which, quite frankly, is an alarming number. In the NY Times article, there were only two trainers that had more drug violations per start than Baffert.

There are successful trainers that have never had a single drug violation. For instance, like Baffert, Trainer H. Graham Motion has also trained over 10,000 starters, but H. Graham Motion, a truly great horseman, has never had a single drug positive. Not surprisingly, H. Graham Motion has been one of the most vocal trainers advocating for The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.
 
In that same NY Times article, it showed that Trainer Shug McGaughey also raced over 10,000 starters with only two drug violations. Christopher Clement, another great thoroughbred trainer, had over 8,000 starters and only one drug violation. There are actually many trainers who have had successful careers without accruing a lot of drug violations.

Most of you know that the 27 trainers that were indicated for doping were the people that many racing fans already suspected of doping. The harness trainers that were indicated were already being banned from the Meadowlands, so the Meadowlands appeared to have good reason to ban them. Kudos to Jeff Gural for putting on honest races.

I follow drug violations pretty closely and from my research, almost all of the trainers that have suspicious results on the racetrack also have 10 or more drug violations and a high number of violations per start.

And let me make something clear. I don't believe that we should accuse people based on success. There are a lot of very successful trainers in both sports and success by itself doesn't warrant suspicion. The reason why I suspect that Baffert is a cheater is based partly on the way his horses perform, but mostly on his history of drug violations and horse deaths.

But another problem with the Baffert horses is the way that the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) covers up for Baffert. During a 16 month period from November 2011 through March of 2013, 7 horses trained by Bob Baffert in Southern California, dropped dead. I use that wording because the 7 horses that died did not break down physically. They literally dropped dead. The deaths were attributed to either cardiac arrest or aneurisms. During that 16 month time frame, Baffert horses accounted for 2.5% of the starts in California, but 19.4% of the deaths.

After investigating the deaths of the seven horses, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) cleared Baffert of any wrongdoing. They didn't fine him a penny or suspend him. They did nothing. The press simply noted that Baffert has good friends on the board. Baffert seemed puzzled by the deaths but said that he was giving his horses a thyroid medication called thyroxine "to build them up". Dr. Rick Arthur, one of the board members, called Baffert's statement "surprising" because the drug is used for the opposite, to assist weight loss. Personally, I doubt very much that the horse deaths were caused by thyroxine, which has been abused by trainers for many years. It most likely was a more potent drug. Baffert always has an excuse ready, though.

Back in 2013, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) investigated another one of the sport's leading trainers and found that he was giving most, if not all of his horses, thyroxine even though, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), there was no evidence that any of the horses needed the thyroid drug. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said that thyroxine "conveniently" speeds up metabolism. Thyroxine has been widely used. When interviewed by Ray Paulick of The Paulick Report back in 2014, Dr. Jeff Blea, a Southern California racetrack veterinarian, said that very few horses need a thyroid medication like thyroxine. Blea also said that the drug increases metabolism and suggested that trainers may be using it because it increases hyperactivity, which could be seen as a performance enhancer.

There's also been speculation that some trainers may be using thyroxine as a masking agent to mitigate the effects of cobalt chloride, a banned performance enhancing substance, which, unfortunately, seems to have been widely used. If you do an internet search for cobalt chloride, you'll fine many articles about how cobalt has been used in race horse doping. One of the trainers that Jeff Gural banned from racing at the Meadowlands was giving his horses heavy doses of cobalt. It's obvious why there are trainers abusing thyroxine, and it's not because the horses have a thyroid condition.

On the subject of hyperactivity, in this year's Kentucky Derby, Baffert entered two horses, Authentic, and Thousand Words. Keep in mind that because of Covid-19, no fans were allowed at Churchill Downs this year, so there wasn't the usual loud crowd noise. Before the race, Thousand Words reared in the walking ring, fell down, and had to be scratched. After the race, Authentic, the race winner, acted up in the winner's circle and knocked Baffert off his feet.

You can read a lot more about the Baffert horse deaths by doing an online search. Jane Allin has a lot of detailed information in her blog. Search on 'Deadly To Horses - The Baffert Effect - Part I and Part II.' The name of the blog is, Tuesday's Horse.

But, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB)'s apparent compliance doesn't stop there. After Justify won the 2018 Santa Anita Derby, the 3 year old tested positive for a banned substance. The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) hid the drug positive from the public for months. Justify went on to win the Triple Crown and was retired after 6 races, then sold to syndication for $60 million US Dollars. You know the old saying, follow the money.

After the Triple Crown was over, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) came out with the news that Justify had tested positive prior to the Kentucky Derby. If they had told the public about the positive when they should have, Justify would not have qualified for the Kentucky Derby.

A New York Times article about the Justify situation can be found on the internet by searching "Justify Failed A Drug Test Before Winning The Triple Crown" by Joe Drape, which was published on September 11, 2019.

The owners of the horse that finished 2nd behind Justify in the Santa Anita Derby have a lawsuit pending against the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), claiming that they hid the Justify drug positive. Their horse is Bolt d'Oro. The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) did hide the drug positive, so in my opinion, the lawsuit appears to have merit. This week, more than two years after the race in question, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) announced that they're reviewing the race to see if Justify should be disqualified. You can do internet searches and read more details about these situations. If the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) does what they normally do with Baffert's drug positives, they won't do anything. But maybe the pressure is building for them to stop sweeping things under the rug. It seems unusual that they're finally reviewing the case 2 1/2 years after the race was run.

This Spring at the Oaklawn Park meet, two of Baffert's star 3 year olds tested positive for lidocaine, a drug that reportedly numbs a horse's limbs. In other words, it alleviates pain. Charlatan, a 3 year old colt, won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby but failed his drug test and had to forfeit the $300,000 purse. Baffert received a 15 day suspension. Charlatan has since been sidelined with an ankle injury, no great surprise there.

Gamine, a 3 year old filly, also tested positive on May 2, 2020. Gamine then raced at Belmont Park on June 29, 2020, and won the Acorn Stakes by almost 19 lengths in a sensational performance setting a track record for the mile in 1:32.55. Baffert's horses often run mind-boggling races like that. I've been handicapping and watching races for a long time and I can tell you that thoroughbred horses that set a fast pace, or even sit close to a fast pace, slow down in the final quarter. Every handicapper knows that. The only horse that didn't slow down after setting a fast pace was Secretariat, who was a total freak, a once in a lifetime monster. Baffert's horses, however, often find that extra gear. They do things that seem too good to be true, reminiscent of athletes like Mark McGwire or Lance Armstrong.

Baffert also had another top colt earlier in the year, Nadal. He also won a division of the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park this Spring. But Nadal, who won his first four starts, broke down during a workout at Santa Anita Park and has been retired.

Now I'm sure some of you are wondering how Bob Baffert gets away with all this. Basically, it's because the racing industry protects him and lets him get away with it. Baffert is in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and comes across as an affable guy on TV.

Baffert comes up with excuses for these drug violations, but based on his overall record of horse deaths and drug infractions, it's fair to say that we should be skeptical. After his two 3 year olds tested positive for lidocaine at Oaklawn Park this Spring, Baffert's attorney said that the lidocaine came from a member of the trainer's staff who was wearing a lidocaine patch for this back pain. That is the most preposterous excuse for a drug positive that I've ever heard. It's such a laughable and obvious lie that it's an insult to our intelligence. Yet, the judges at Oaklawn Park fell for it. Baffert's 15 day suspension for using a pain numbing drug on two of his horses was a slap on the wrist, especially when you consider his overall record of drug violations.

For some reason, the racing industry refuses to send this guy a message. My guess is that they think that a long suspension would be a black eye for the sport, but what about the integrity of the sport? What about the owners, trainers, and bettors that got cheated? This is one of the reasons why the sport needs the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which will hopefully create more uniform and severe penalties for repeat drug violations.

Another reason why Baffert gets away with this stuff is that the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) appears to cover up for him. To me, it seems like corruption. It's certainly suspicious. Baffert and his friends at the CHRB always come up with some lame excuse for the drug violations, like, "the feed was tainted with drugs". Funny how so many other very successful trainers who have trained over 10,000 horses have never had that "tainted feed" problem that plagues the Baffert barn. Maybe Bob Baffert should buy his feed from H. Graham Motion.

Drug violations aren't new for Baffert. People may not remember this, but back in 2001, thoroughbred racing was developing a black eye because many trainers were getting drug positives. You can read an article online that was published in The Washington Post, Drug Rules Test Racing Trainers. In that article, Tim Smith, Commissioner and Chief Executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) said that he hoped the industry would adapt uniform drug testing and guidelines. Here it is, nineteen years later, and still no industry standards for drug testing. That's why the United States Senate is going ahead with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.

In 2001, one of Baffert's horses tested positive for morphine. Smith also said this, "There was a perception that the most visible trainer in the sport (Baffert), apparently administered a substance to affect the outcome of a race."

Take a guess what Baffert's excuse for the morphine positive was. You guessed it, "tainted feed."

Reprinted with permission by Bob Pandolfo edited by The Horseman's Voice via https://www.facebook.com/robert.pandolfo/posts/10158803952387372

 
 
Comment (...) Tweet Share Email Print

Read More News About...

Stallion Name

Next article in International: