Justify’s Santa Anita Derby win will not be overturned

Justify gallops around the track at Pimlico Race Course.
Justify gallops around the track at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press )

Justify will remain the only Triple Crown champion to finish his career undefeated.

The board of stewards at Santa Anita on Wednesday decided that the results of the 2018 Santa Anita Derby would not be overturned as the result of a drug positive for Justify, the 13th winner of the Triple Crown. Justify has tested positive for scopolamine, a drug found in jimson weed. It was previously discovered that the horse ingested the substance through feed contamination.

Justify, along with stablemate Hoppertunity, were among seven horses representing four different barns who tested positive for the substance. Hoppertunity was also cleared by the CHRB in its ruling on Wednesday. He won the 2018 Tokyo City Cup at Santa Anita. Most equine medical experts believe that scopolamine is not a performance-enhancing substance.

Racing N Lace becomes the 29th horse to die at Los Alamitos since Dec. 27 after the filly was injured during the seventh race Saturday night.


Wednesday’s ruling came after Justify had already been cleared of any penalty by the California Horse Racing Board in closed session on Aug. 23, 2018. However, Mick Ruis, owner and trainer of second-place finisher Bolt d’Oro, filed suit alleging that CHRB should not have dismissed the matter without an official complaint. Ruis filed suit against the CHRB and as part of the settlement, the CHRB agreed to file an official complaint and hold a hearing.

Justify’s status as a Triple Crown winner was never in doubt as medication cases can often take a year or more to be adjudicated and there is no way that Justify could have been disqualified before any of the Triple Crown races. All that was at stake was purse money and Justify’s position as an undefeated Triple Crown winner. Even that was a statistical achievement only as the 3-year-old colt retired after his sixth race, the Belmont Stakes.

The Santa Anita stewards did not give Justify a sweeping endorsement saying, “It is the stewards’ opinion that had this board of stewards heard the Justify and Hoppertunity complaints prior to Aug. 23, 2018, both horses would have been disqualified.”

As the process went to a two-year later review, it was never considered that trainer Bob Baffert would face a penalty.

“I’m happy with the decision, most importantly for Justify,” Baffert said. “He is a great horse and deserves his undefeated record.

“As I have said before, 2020 has been a difficult year so I’m happy to put this matter behind me. While I’m grateful for the decision, and believe it was the correct one, it does not alter my commitment to an improved 2021.”

The L.A. County Fair racing meet will be held in December for the first time in almost 90 years when it opens Friday at Los Alamitos Race Course with no spectators.

The hearing to re-examine the original ruling was held on Oct. 29. The strongest witness for the connections of Justify was Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director of the CHRB, who has jurisdiction of all drug violations. He strongly backed up the idea of environmental contamination. Another mitigating factor was the then recent reclassification of scopolamine by the national group which oversees medications. It had dropped scopolamine to a level that does not result in disqualification of horses.

“Even if this panel were to disagree with the CHRB’s decision to dismiss these matters or the way the CHRB handled the situation it cannot be argued that the CHRB lacked the authority to do so,” the stewards wrote in their decision. “The law specifically allows such actions to take place and the CHRB followed the law.”