The owners of Justify and Hoppertunity, along with trainer Bob Baffert and jockeys Mike Smith and Flavien Prat, have filed filed legal action in Los Angeles Superior Court to prevent the California Horse Racing Board from conducting Oct. 29 disqualification hearings into April 2018 victories by Justify in the Santa Anita Derby and Hoppertunity in the Tokyo City Cup.
The writ of mandate, filed on Oct. 13, claims Aug. 25, 2020, actions by the CHRB to reopen the cases are “void, arbitrary, capricious, unconstitutional, beyond the power of the CHRB, and a prejudicial abuse of discretion.” It alleges the CHRB has violated California Code of Regulations and Government Code as well as the due process rights of the petitioners under the U.S. Constitution.
Justify and Hoppertunity, along with five other unnamed horses, tested positive for scopolamine in 2018. According to the legal filing, the Justify and Hoppertunity cases were investigated by the CHRB’s equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, and then-CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker. Both determined the “cluster” of scopolamine positives at Santa Anita in 2018 resulted from hay contaminated with jimson weed, proof of which, the writ of mandate states, is that all horses also indicated the presence of atropine, which it states is a “definitive marker of environmental contamination.”
Arthur and Baedeker recommended to the CHRB members in closed-door executive session that all seven scopolamine cases be dismissed, and the board in place at the time unanimously voted to support that recommendation, according to the action filed Oct. 13.
It wasn’t until a September 2019 report in the New York Times that the positive drug tests and decision not to conduct stewards hearings was revealed. Several months later, Mick Ruis, owner of Santa Anita Derby runner-up Bolt d’Oro, filed suit against the CHRB demanding the case against Justify be reopened. Ruis stood to gain $400,000 in purse money (the difference between $600,000 for first and $200,000 for second) and other possible gains if Bolt d’Oro were declared winner of the Grade 1 race.
The Santa Anita Derby win by Justify in his stakes debut earned the Scat Daddy colt 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. He went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, then retired to stud undefeated in six starts after being sold to Coolmore Stud.
As part of the settlement to the suit filed by Ruis, the CHRB said it would file a complaint against the owners of Justify and conduct a purse disqualification hearing. The CHRB also filed a complaint against the owners of Hoppertunity, though not against the other five unnamed horses testing positive for scopolamine.
The owners of Justify at the time were WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC and Starlight Racing. The owners of Hoppertunity were Michael Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.
Attorneys for he petitioners contend scopolamine was – at the time of the April 2018 victories by Justify and Hoppertunity – a Class 4 drug with a C penalty classification under Association of Racing Commissioner guidelines. As such, they contend, a positive test for scopolamine would not trigger a disqualification.
They also contend the CHRB did not act in a timely manner in reopening the cases.
The legal action accuses the CHRB of violating its own rules and engaging in “unfair, arbitrary and capricious conduct. Petitioners have been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and there is no rational basis for he difference in treatment.”
As a result of the CHRB’s actions, the writ of mandate alleges, the connections of Justify and Hoppertunity “have suffered damages, including in the form of reputational harm.”
The petitioners are seeking a writ of mandate from the court ordering the CHRB to dismiss the complaints and cancel all hearings related to Justify and Hoppertunity’s positive tests. They are also seeking unspecified damages, along with attorneys’ fees and court costs.
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