(Justify / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

It’s now official.

What should have been done from the beginning, way back in 2018,  has now come to an end in 2024.

Finally. After 6 long, agonizing and court-fighting years, a conclusion has been reached.

Not without casualties and life-long damage to both reputation and history, mind you. Asteriks are sure to come. Questions are bound to be asked. Doubts and fears are certain to be attached.

But, mercifully and rightfully, this saga — and another awful, disgusting, putrid chapter in the history of Thoroughbred racing written by the horse’s notorious and controversial trainer, Bob Baffert — has come to an end.

Justify is no longer the winner of the 2018 Santa Anita Derby.

The courts have ruled and made final declarations.

The California Horse Racing Board has finally done the job it should have done in the beginning and rendered a final judgment, which it failed to do way back when Justify failed a post-race drug test following his victory in the Stakes event and major Kentucky Derby prep. A race and victory that improperly and, potentially, illegally guaranteed the horse and his connections a berth in the Kentucky Derby that same year when they were award Derby-eligibility points that should have been erased. And, gave them entrance into the biggest race of all — the Kentucky Derby — which they won, too, on their way to a Triple Crown that should never have been.

Justify and the winning connections have been stripped of their victory in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby — due to a positive drug infraction — and the owners now must repay the equivalent of the purse back.

And, finally, the runner-up in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby — Bolt d’Oro — has now been declared the winner, and, thus, shall reap all the financial awards that go along with that title.

So, other than Mick Ruis, the owner of Bolt d’Oro, and the direct connections of that horse, why does this matter to any of us today?

Why should any of us care? Why should we even give a damn?

So glad you asked…so, so, so glad…

First…

This industry should care. This great sport should care. If this game does not demand integrity at the highest level, and insist on total credibility of its’ participants and connections, it is certainly doomed to fail.

Drug tests are an essential ingredient to ensure all are playing on a fair and level field of competition. Those that fail to comply, must pay the consequences. Those that fail, must be penalized. Those that fail cannot be allowed to bypass scrutiny, investigation, and forfeiture and simply allowed to move on and up. No way.

By allowing Justify and his connections to run in the Kentucky Derby without any public acknowledgement of a failed drug test; without any public hearing; without any disclosure to Churchill Downs is downright fraud, and borderlines on criminal conduct. Especially when you consider that some that knew of the failed drug test were friends of Baffert; were clients of Baffert; and who served on the California Horse Racing Board at the time; and, of course, that bastion of honesty, Baffert, himself.

On the walk-over to the Kentucky Derby that very first Saturday in May, Baffert knew that his horse had failed a drug test and that he did NOT belong in the biggest race of all. He knew that some other horse and those people, who had earned their way in, was going to be excluded. Yet, did he show any sign of conscience? He kept it hidden, for God’s sake.

Truth matters. Honesty matters. Credibility matters. It matters when you have it. And, it matters when you don’t.

Secondly…

The Kentucky Derby historians and fraternity of Triple Crown winners — all of whom accomplished this rare and amazing feat legitimately — should care. Their ranks have now been tarnished by one of their own.

To win the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred horse racing is one of the most difficult accomplishments in all of sport. This year, we will get to witness the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. From the beginning of time, only 13 horses have won the Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

It was 25 years between Citation’s sweep in 1948 and Secretariat’s blitzkrieg in 1973. It was 37 years between Affirmed’s remarkable trilogy over Alydar until American Pharaoh did the trick in 2015.

It is tough. It is amazing. It is remarkable. And, it is historic.

In 2018, it happened for the 13th time when Justify swept the three G1 Stakes in succession. Truth is, though, he should not have been allowed in the very first leg.

To take his accomplishments away from him now, after he did what he did on the track, may be harsh. It may be tough.

But the truth is that the connections cheated to get Justify in the game to begin with, and history cannot make exceptions and be correct. History cannot forgive and forget. It must be pure to remain. And, truth is, Justify should not be a Kentucky Derby winner or a Triple Crown winner. Period.

Third…

The bettors should care. The people that put their money on Good Magic, who ran 2nd that year, should care. The people who bet their hard-earned money on third-place finisher Audible should care. How about the people who wagered on super long-shot Instilled Regard, and he finished fourth — just outside the pari-mutuel payoffs? Think they should care.

The fact is this. Justify had no business being in the Kentucky Derby that year. But, though no fault of Churchill Downs and its’ officials, who simply did not know that the horse had failed a drug test and, as such, did not earn the necessary points to get into the Kentucky Derby, the horse made it to the starting gate any way.

And, the horse won money that should have gone to others — including bettors. The very people who make the entire wheel of the game go round and round. They were taken to the bank. Again.

Finally, Fourth…and, maybe, most importantly…

The connections of all those horses that finished behind a horse who should have never been in the Kentucky Derby — who never legitimately earned his way into the 2018 Kentucky Derby by earning the necessary points — should care.

Just like Mick Ruis and his very own Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby, the connections of Good Magic and Audible and Instilled Regard were cheated.

So were the connections of My Boy Jack, Bravado, Homburg and Lone Sailor.

Go further down the list. The connections of Vino Rosso and all the rest.

Including the Also-Eligible horse, Blended Citizen, who won the Jeff Ruby Steaks that year but didn’t make the field of 20 due to the fact that some people hid the reality that Justify failed a drug test and, as a result, should have never made the field.

Truth of the matter is that all of the connections of these horses should pick up the phone and call each other. They should hire an attorney, too. They should all file a class action lawsuit against the California Horse Racing Board; against the members of that Board at the time who failed to acknowledge that Justify failed a post-race drug test; against Baffert, who had been told about it and failed to tell anyone in any official capacity at Churchill Downs; and against the winning connections of Justify.

If Mick Ruis can do it, so should all the rest of the owners in the field of the 2018 Kentucky Derby. They deserve no less than a hearing and a fair and equitable resolution, too.

They should sue. They could still win the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

In conclusion, this is not to blame the horse.

Justify could not help the fact that he failed a drug test — whether it be by feed contamination or by some other more diabolical means.

Justify’s place in racing history will always remain in high regard, and, undoubtedly, he has proven himself to be a magnificent sire, as well. One of the best in history, perhaps.

But it is time to correct a wrong.

Just like the courts in California did.

It was wrong that Justify ran in the 2018 Kentucky Derby and Blended Citizen could not.

It was wrong that Justify is still declared the winner of the 2018 Kentucky Derby, since he should not have even been included by the rules to determine eligibility at the time. Good Magic should be declared that winner. Now and forever more.

It was wrong that the California Horse Racing Board hid the fact that Justify failed a drug test after winning the Santa Anita Derby, and it was wrong that its’ members didn’t tell anyone other than the horse’s trainer.

It was wrong that Bob Baffert was credited with this Derby victory.

And, it is wrong, today, to act like all of that didn’t happen and just forget.

It is right to fix it all.

Right here.

Right now.

Finally.