Multiple published reports confirmed Tuesday that Bob Baffert’s star 3-year-old Charlatan was one of two horses from the Hall of Fame trainer’s barn testing positive for lidocaine in a post-race sample taken on Arkansas Derby Day May 2.
The New York Times reported the second horse was Gamine, a filly who won an allowance race on the Arkansas Derby undercard. According to the Times, both horses had initial tests flagged for lidocaine, often given to horses after wound treatment.
While lidocaine has legitimate uses, such as a numbing agent for suturing wounds, its use is regulated because those same pain-numbing characteristics can mask deeper issues – such as an unsound horse. The Association of Racing Commissioners International classify lidocaine as a Class 2 drug.
Currently listed as the third favorite (+685) at Circa Sports to win the Kentucky Derby, Charlatan won the first division of the Arkansas Derby for his third win in as many starts. The victory came with 100 Derby qualifying points and a $300,000 payday. Should he be disqualified, that check will be forfeited, the points will disappear, and runner-up Basin will move up to first.
That would leave Charlatan – who currently sits fourth with those 100 points — with zero points. His first two victories came in a maiden race and an allowance race.
Nothing Happens if the Second Test Comes Back Negative
Disqualification comes only after results from a second test come back. If that test comes back negative, the matter gets treated as a negative test. Absent any mitigating factors, the Times reports a second positive test usually brings a 15-to-60 day suspension and a fine of $500 to $1,000 for a first offense. That, of course, along with forfeiture of all prize money.
Arkansas state steward Bernie Hettel said no ruling will be issued until the second test comes back.
Baffert released a statement to the Louisville Courier-Journal that read “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.”
Baffert Pushes for Quick Resumption of Matter
The trainer added that he hopes for an “expedited investigation” and that he has already requested a second round of testing.
This is not the first time Baffert, the trainer of five Kentucky Derby winners who is often considered the face of horse racing, finds himself embroiled in a drug issue involving one of his prize 3-year-olds. In 2019, the Times broke a story that Justify, winner of the 2018 Triple Crown, tested positive for scopolamine, a banned substance that can improve a horse’s breathing and heart rate. The positive test came after Justify won the Santa Anita Derby a month before he captured the Kentucky Derby.
Multiple horses from multiple trainers at Santa Anita Park also had horses test positive for scopolamine. Taking that into account during its subsequent investigation, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) ruled that Justify and the other horses ingested the drug through contaminated feed.
Scopolamine is found in jimson weed, and a feed operator who services Santa Anita told NBCSports.com that jimson weed is an unfortunate byproduct that sometimes finds its way into feed. Those horses also tested positive for atropine, another drug found in jimson weed. If Baffert was shooting up Justify with scopolamine, you wouldn’t find atropine in his system.
No Wrongdoing Found to Justify Overturning Results
The upshot: Justify and Baffert were cleared of any wrongdoing. The horse passed all three drug tests administered after his Triple Crown race victories. He then retired to stud, his breeding rights sold for a reported $60 million.
“It’s environmental. This has been a problem in California for years,” Baffert told NBCSports.com. “I didn’t give Justify any of that. Scopolamine. I wouldn’t even know where to find it.”
Now, however, Baffert is dealing with a drug scandal while mapping out paths for his prize 3-year-olds. He had Charlatan dialed in for the June 20 Belmont Stakes, which offers 150-60-30-15 qualifying points. The Belmont Stakes field caps at 16 runners and earnings in graded stakes of a mile or longer are the first entry criteria.
Charlatan Still Has Several Ways Into Belmont Stakes
Even if Charlatan forfeits his $300,000 Arkansas Derby purse earnings, he can still get into the Belmont Park starting gate if he is one of three horses selected by committee. Given Charlatan’s reputation and Baffert’s towering presence in the sport, that’s a foregone conclusion. And all of this only matters if there are more than 16 entries.
Baffert had three horses at Oaklawn Park on the day of the Arkansas Derby. Along with Charlatan and Gamine, standout 3-year-old Nadal was there, winning the second division of the Arkansas Derby. George Bolton, Nadal’s co-owner, told the Daily Racing Form that Nadal’s test came back clean.
Louis Cella, Oaklawn Park’s owner, wants this cleared up as quickly as Baffert does. He wants to avoid another Justify 2018 scenario.
“We will not have a situation like in California, where a horse ran in the Kentucky Derby after failing a drug test. That was an embarrassment to the industry. We will push to have this cleared up by the Belmont Stakes,” he told the Times.