The owners, trainer and jockeys for two race horses, including 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, lost a round in court Thursday when a judge denied their request for a stay or a court order temporarily blocking an upcoming administrative hearing by the California Horse Racing Board into positive drug tests on the animals.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant said he had no legal grounds to put on hold the Oct. 29 hearing of the Board of Stewards of the California Horse Racing Board into positive drug tests of thoroughbreds Justify and Hoppertunity during races in April 2018 at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia.
The petitioners in the case filed Tuesday include Bob Baffert, trainer for both Justify and Hoppertunity; Justify owners WinStar Farm LLC and China Horse Club; jockey Mike Smith, who rode Justify to victory in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby; Flavien Prat, Hoppertunity’s jockey when the horse finished first in the Tokyo City Cup — which took place at the Arcadia track — and Hoppertunity’s three individual owners.
The petitioners sought a delay in the Oct. 29 hearing until a judge could rule on their request for an injunction directing the CHRB to dismiss the complaints filed against Justify and Hoppertunity.
Amanda Groves, on behalf of the petitioners, told the judge that allowing the Oct. 29 hearing to go forward would cause irreparable harm by bringing further damage to Justify’s reputation and the horse’s accomplishments and records. In contrast, the CHRB would not be prejudiced by a brief delay in the proceedings, she argued.
Steve Schwartz, Baffert’s attorney, said the breeding value of Justify could be negatively affected if the hearing goes ahead.
However, Deputy Attorney General Robert D. Petersen, on behalf of the CHRB, told Chalfant it is not a foregone conclusion that the Board of Stewards will rule against the petitioners.
“They may win, they may lose,” Petersen said.
If the petitioners are not victorious, they can then come back to court for review of the decision, Petersen said.
Chalfant agreed, saying he saw no irreparable harm or jurisdictional issues.
“I don’t see any reason to stop this hearing,” the judge said.
The legal action brought by the petitioners “challenges the CHRB’s groundless decision to reopen a closed matter and conduct a retroactive hearing with an apparently foregone conclusion to disqualify and redistribute winnings from horse races that occurred 2 1/2 years ago,” according to their court papers.
The petitioners maintain that the CHRB’s reopening of the case against the two horses is “arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful and already has put at risk Justify’s historic accomplishments, record and reputation as well as Hoppertunity’s reputation and prestigious graded stakes win.”
The petitioners say CHRB knew when it decided the issues in 2018 that both horses tested positive for scopolamine just after their respective races in April of that year. And they maintain that after a thorough investigation and deliberation, consistent with the well-established equine science and its own governing statute and rules, the CHRB decided the positive results occurred because of natural contamination in the horses’ feed.
The CHRB is ignoring that fact that the board could not have disqualified either horse in 2018 and cannot do so now because scopolamine is a “classified substance” that, by law, does not permit disqualification, according to the petition.
In a sworn declaration, Baffert said neither thoroughbred was given the drug.
“Neither I, nor the horses’ veterinarians, nor anyone else involved with these two thoroughbreds, ever administered scopolamine to Justify or Hoppertunity,” Baffert said.
The petition alleges the CHRB has conceded that it has issued its complaints and is holding a hearing “simply to dispose of a civil action brought against it by a race runner-up, and solely as a way to avoid further litigation and expense in that lawsuit.”