One of our researchers came across this story on Bob Baffert from 20 years ago — almost to the day — and look, oh look, what he was up to.
It comes from the New York Post, dated June 20, 2001. Ed Fountaine writes:
Trainer Bob Baffert, who is appealing the 60-day suspension handed down Sunday by the California stewards a year after one of his horse’s urine tested positive for a trace of morphine, said yesterday the positive – measured at 73 nanograms, which his attorney Neil Pappiano compared to “1/100th of one poppy seed on a bagel” – almost certainly resulted from hay contaminated by wild-growing poppies.
“I’m sure it came from the feed,” Baffert said. “We have photos of poppy fields growing right in with the hay. I never thought anything like this could happen. You’re not safe. It could happen to anyone.”
Hmmm. We wonder if Neil Pappiano may have sewn the seed for yet another poppy related angle/excuse. Never mind that for now. Check out his over-the-top response (2nd paragraph). The article continues:
He believes the California Horse Racing Board, which recommended the suspension, is harming the sport by enforcing a “zero-tolerance” policy that punishes horsemen for minute levels of drugs, discovered through ultra-sophisticated testing procedures that don’t allow for incidental contamination.
“We thought if they were smart, they’d dismiss it,” Baffert said. “Instead, they hit me (with the suspension) on Father’s Day, when I was down with my dad and my mother. (The authorities) didn’t even tell us. I only found out when some reporters called. It was like Pearl Harbor.
The bagel did it
A little later on, in an article dated July 1, 2001, the Los Angeles Times revisited the subject. Rob Fernas writes:
Baffert stated that his employees often have bakery goods around the barn that may contain poppy seeds, which could cause a positive reading for morphine if ingested by a horse.
Kollias-Baker* said if a horse ate a gram, or tablespoon, of poppy seeds, it most likely would test positive for morphine for up to 24 hours. In 1996, [the late Trainer Bobby] Frankel argued successfully that a positive test could have been caused by poppy-seed bagels being around the barn. The charge was dropped.*Cynthia Kollias-Baker, a veterinary pharmacologist at the state’s other drug-testing lab at UC Davis.
We also came across a human equivalent, sort of. Rich Calder, reporting on August 7, 2018 for the New York Post, writes:
A jail guard’s bagel defense just got toasted.
The city Department of Correction ordered an officer fired on Tuesday for failing a drug test — even though an administrative law judge recently cleared him of the allegations on the grounds that his positive result was likely caused by eating a poppy seed bagel and not for getting high on dope.
The Department of Correction, however, stood by the decision, telling The Post: “There is no real evidence that a few poppy seeds can make you fail a drug test.”
The above story has more twists and turns than braided sweet bread. Or a Baffert yarn. See what we mean here »
Featured Image: Shutterstock
Going on now
On May 22, 2021 it was reported that Baffert continues competing at Santa Anita despite Medina Spirit’s positive drug test at the Kentucky Derby.
On May 20, 2021 Horse Racing Nation in an article entitled “Is Medina Spirit’s team blocking rest of Ky. Derby drug test?”, they revealed: The Louisville Courier-Journal reported Tuesday that the sample remained in the hands of Medina Spirit’s connections. Baffert’s team has since said the betamethasone might have gotten into Medina Spirit’s bloodstream through the use of an ointment to treat a condition on the colt’s rear end. WE SAY: Good thing there were no poppy seed bagels around to boot.
A native of Nogales, Ariz., Bob Baffert grew up interested in horses and graduated from the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program. After climbing to the top of the Quarter Horse racing world, where he trained four champions, Baffert began the transition to Thoroughbred racing in the late 1980s.
Updated: 7:10 am EST 5/25/21
5 thoughts on “Flashback: Baffert and bagels and poppies and drugs tests”
Ah yes… no surprises here.
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Same 💩, different day.
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So, when there is a split sample, the racecourse gets sample 1, and the horse’s connections (trainer, owner) get sample 2. Is that what they are saying now? Or is that how it was to start with? The coverage of this has been exasperating. All the misinformation, misreporting and in some cases bold face lying — by everyone but the horse.
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God knows anymore.
Here is one take on it.
“”The Louisville Courier-Journal reported Tuesday that the sample remained in the hands of Medina Spirit’s connections.”
His connections? Seriously? Self-policing themselves? What could go wrong? /s
Then there is this:
“The split sample, or “B” sample, is collected at the same time as the primary sample, in the test barn after the race. Urine or blood is collected from the horse and subsequently divided into two containers. One of these is sent off for analysis by the laboratory contracted by the commission for post-race testing. The other (the split sample) is stored under lock and key at the track at which it was collected.”
So which is it? Does the Baffert cabal have it, or does Churchill Downs have it under lock and key?
Then of course, Baffert is allowed to select which lab will test the sample, and “usually” is required to select a lab with a certain level of accreditation, like RMTC accreditation, for example. Why isn’t there a universal lab that samples as important as this are sent to? Why should the trainer select the lab? After all, it is the prestigious Kentucky Derby under question.
Then there is a the question as to why Baffert has not released the sample for testing yet? Or has he?
Why the delay “at least” until after the Preakness? Well, if Medina Spirit won the Preakness there would be the tantalizing prospect of another Triple Crown. By holding onto the sample, chances are by the time the results came back it would be after the Belmont. Speculation? Of course, but after a while these lame excuses gets tiresome.
And, according to Dr. Mary Scollay, in her experience at the Kentucky commission, it is extremely rare for a split to come back negative. If that is the case, which no doubt it will be unless some clandestine tinkering with the sample or its testing goes on, Medina Spirit will be disqualified: “Kentucky regulation, KAR Title 810, Chapter 8, Section 030, states that a first Class C offense for an owner “shall” result in disqualification and loss of purse. Unlike trainer penalties, there is no language included allowing for stewards to consider mitigating circumstances.”
But as expected: “ Medina Spirit owner Amr Zedan has engaged an attorney who’s already preparing to argue that the stewards aren’t bound to disqualify a horse.”
And Baffert is hoping it too, will be swept under the rug. How, just how, could they disqualify “gasp” a Baffert Derby winner? It would be sacrilegious – the great Teflon Bob? Say it isn’t so.
And it would be only the second Derby horse disqualified to date, the first being Dancer’s Image in 1968. But then again, remember Justify, the horse that tested positive for a banned substance in the Santa Anita Derby and “should” have been disqualified from running in the Kentucky Derby? Baffert got away with that one, and was handed the Triple Crown* after months of behind closed doors decisions by the California Horse Racing Board, and it moved to drop the case. Tainted in many people’s eyes, but hey, honest folks, it was contamination – for the umpteenth time. Sure Bob – always the victim, never the villen.
How ’bout a shot of truth in that denial cocktail for a change.
The question remains whether Baffert and all his money and connections can pull it off again. Whatever the outcome, it’s clear Baffert is not Horse Racing’s savior but rather their biggest liability.
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Brilliant summary and spot on questions. Nobody is answering them because there is no regulatory body who will make them.
Baffert is giving racing a black eye it can ill afford.
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