(Justify / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
The California Horse Racing Board will not disqualify the only undefeated Triple Crown winner in history — Justify — from his win in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby.
According to our information, and confirmed by a source very close to the situation, the state’s oversight board — which voted back in August of 2020 to proceed with a complaint seeking the disqualification — did meet, and discussed the facts associated with the case. This oversight review was conducted by the Board’s stewards.
However, after deliberating and discussing possible actions, the CHRB’s Stewards concluded that it will not order a disqualification in the race, and, thus, will leave Justify as the winner of the major Kentucky Derby prep, according to our sources.
Justify needed the win and the points to qualify for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, which he won on the first Saturday in May of that year. Two weeks later, the son of Scat Daddy went on to win the second leg of the Triple Crown and the Preakness Stakes. Three weeks after that win in Baltimore, Justify was shipped to New York, where he won the final leg and the G1 Belmont Stakes.
Justify was later retired before running in another race, and retired as the only undefeated winner of the prestigious Triple Crown. That year, Justify became the first horse in over 100 years to win the Kentucky Derby without having made a single start as a 2-year-old. The last horse to have done that was Apollo, back before the turn of the Century and the 1900s.
Justify, who now stands as a stallion at Coolmore America in Versailles, KY., ran for a partnership of several owners — led by WinStar Farm and Starlight Racing.
If the CHRB’s decision to leave the status quo stands, then there will be no reallocation of the purse monies.
“The New York Times” first reported in September of 2019 that Justify had tested positive for scopolamine — an illegal substance — in his post-race test and examination following the Santa Anita Derby that year. The “Times” also reported that the CHRB, at the time, met privately and decided not to take any legal action and not file an official complaint.
The reason for the board’s decision not to set aside Justify’s win was described as “substantial evidence” that the scopolamine positive was due to environmental contamination from jimson weed — which was fed to several horses that competed in races that day and earlier in the same week. Jimson weed grows wild in California, and can accidentally contaminate hay and other feed products with illegal substances — like scopolamine.
After the story was printed in the “Times,” and others raised ethical questions about how and when the Board adjudicated and decided the matter originally, Mick Ruis — who owned and trained Bolt d’Oro, the runner-up to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby at the time — filed a lawsuit seeking a settlement agreement and a disqualification of Justify.
Ruis, who has been represented by former trainer Darrell Vienna, alleged that the Board, as it was constituted in 2018, intentionally failed to discharge its’ public duty when they refused to publicize the first positive test result; failed to file an official “complaint,” and failed to disqualify Justify from the race and the purse winnings.
It should be noted that the racing board does have some discretion in filing an official complaint against a trainer for a medication positive if, in certain cases, there has been some environmental contamination and that could possibly trigger a positive test result.
Scopolamine has been used to treat motion sickness for humans, and, in some cases, has been utilized by veterinarians to treat intestinal spasms in Thoroughbreds. It can be toxic to horses, though. For horse racing, the drug has been downgraded from a Class 3 to a Class 4 level substance.
After it was reported that the CHRB would re-examine the issue and look into the possibility of a disqualification, “The Pressbox” was the first to report that Oscar Gonzales, Jr., the Vice Chairman of the CHRB, formerly worked for Vienna — the attorney for Ruis.
After we contacted the CHRB, we were told that according to California State Statues, Mr. Gonzales would be required to recuse himself from participating in this matter, due to the actual and perceived “conflict of interest” issues.
It is not known at this time if Ruis will continue his legal battles and appeal the CHRB’s decision to a higher authority or not.
More information is sure to come.