Everyone who knows us knows we are no fans of Thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert. He is a cheater, a liar and a doper.
I had written a dear colleague a day or so ago stating it is my opinion that when all is said and done, Baffert’s Triple Crown Winner, Justify, would go down in history with an asterisk by his name, marking that the horse had won during the Chemical Age, and his victory would count for little. The next day she wrote back saying, did you see this . . . . ?
“On June 9, 2018, a colt named Justify thundered home to the full-throated cheers of a capacity crowd to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes and claim horse racing’s Triple Crown, one of the most storied achievements in sports.
“It was the perfect ending to an improbable journey for a talented horse, his eclectic ownership group, and his Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert.
“Only a few people, however, knew the secret that Baffert carried with him into the winner’s circle that day: Justify had failed a drug test weeks before the first race in the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. That meant Justify should not have run in the Derby, if the sport’s rules were followed.”
“. . . . if the sport’s rules were followed.” But they don’t follow the rules, do they? And in the case of Justify’s doping prior to the Derby, documents reviewed by The New York Times show they did not enforce the rules in the case of Baffert and his horse.
“Instead of the failed drug test causing a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board took more than a month to confirm the results. Then, instead of filing a public complaint as it usually does, the board made a series of decisions behind closed doors as it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for any horse found to have the banned substance that Justify tested positive for in its system.
“Only a handful of racing officials and people connected to Justify knew about the failed drug test, which occurred April 7, 2018, after Justify won the Santa Anita Derby. He tested positive for the drug scopolamine, a banned substance that veterinarians say can enhance performance, especially in the amount that was found in the horse.
“Justify was undefeated at the time, but he still needed to finish first or second in the Santa Anita Derby to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, on May 5. While the colt won at Santa Anita, the failed drug test would mean disqualification and forfeiture of both the prize money and the entry into the Kentucky Derby that came with the victory.”
“None of that happened, though.
“Test results, emails and internal memorandums in the Justify case show how California regulators waited nearly three weeks, until the Kentucky Derby was only nine days away, to notify Baffert that his Derby favorite had failed a doping test.”
The rest of the article talks about the actions the California Horse Racing Board took, or perhaps I should say didn’t take. Interestingly, “The chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, Chuck Winner, owns an interest in horses trained by Baffert. Two other board members employ trainers and jockeys they regulate.” It is an incestuous business.
Insofar as the drug itself, “Scopolamine cases have resulted in disqualifications, purse reimbursements, fines and suspensions over the decades.” Not it seems, however, if it is used by Bob Baffert.
Justify was “retired” almost immediately following the Triple Crown and shipped off to stud. What about Justify’s Triple Crown? Bring on the asterisk.
In the meantime. . . .
Horse racing is gambled on. Horse doping is race fixing. How this so called “sport” is still running is criminal in every sense of the word in my view and should be banned from being gambled on, which would sink the industry. More on that in another post.
“From the clinical examination of the horses it appears both suffered cervical fractures and both were dead on the racetrack,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, a veterinary with the California Racing Board.
What we know for sure is that they are dead — and by all appearances the deaths were “accidental”, or in other words they didn’t “break down (as in a leg) and die”, as racehorses typically do these days as a matter of routine. This time the horses broke their necks.
How about this quote by Kathy Guillermo in a statement made by PeTA following the announcement of the death of these horses:
“Saying that deaths are inevitable in racing is like saying a swim team can’t compete without drowning.”
Normally the public would have heard nothing about these deaths. Most tracks don’t even report or record training kills. However, all eyes are on California horse racing following Santa Anita’s recent disastrous season of kills.
What’s not mentioned is the pain and mental suffering these two young horses endured as they died. Yes, mental suffering. These are sentient beings.
Baffert, Pletcher and Asmussen may not always be the top three trainers on the list when it comes to racehorse doping violations but they seem to very near the top if not always on the top.
Notwithstanding that, the names of these three racehorse trainers are linked with some of the most egregious doping and cruelty cases making their way to public attention.
A very unsettling example is the incident of the mysterious “sudden deaths” due to cardiovascular / pulmonary failures of 7 racehorses over the course of several months (November 4, 2011 through March 14, 2013). , 
The final necropsy report performed by none other than the corrupt California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) was inconclusive. Nothing surprizing there. Hell, it’s California’s racing sweetheart Teflon Bob who can do no wrong.
Two of those deaths were linked to rat poisoning.
Inexplicably the rodenticide found in the toxicology testing – diphacinone – was inconsistent with the rodenticide used in the barn yet considered insignificant and without suspicion by the CHRB report.
Of course there were the usual myriad routine prescription medications and supplements dispensed by veterinarians in the Baffert barn (e.g. Clenbuterol, Adequan, Methocarbamol, Lasix, Phenylbutazone, Adjunct Bleeder medications, an assortment of vitamins etc.) however the single most perplexing medication that stands out is Baffert’s persistent use of Thyro-L (levothyroxine), a medication to treat hypothyroidism, in all of his horses.
Repeat, all of his horses.
Thyroxine is legal but a known performance enhancer and has the ability to alter the results of many laboratory tests.
Baffert, in conflict with the policy of the American Association of Equine Practitioners ordered the veterinarians to prescribe it. But that’s okay. It’s the CHRB’s beloved Bob.
And then to have the unmitigated presumptuousness to allege that he was using it to “build up” his horses. Who is this guy kidding?
It is used for the exact opposite reason – to assist weight loss – a performance-enhancing tool. Pure and simple doping. Once Baffert discontinued its use miraculously there were no more “sudden deaths”. Verdict: Golden Boy Bob cleared of any wrong-doing. Again.
There are lots of other examples as well including the morphine incident at Hollywood Park. This is the one in which Baffert coerced a groom to lie for him.
The sad fact that Baffert hails from California and has close ties to all those instrumental in running the CHRB, all the important people such as Chuck Winner, Bo Derek (who reportedly has now moved on), Dr. Rick Arthur, and other prominent influencers such as Zayat Racing Stables to which American Pharoah belongs(ed), makes the entire spectacle that much more macabre.
And what about the fact that Zayat was under investigation for placing large bets allegedly manipulating the outcome of races in conjunction with Baffert? What became of this?
Yet people are fawning all over Baffert (and Zayat) these days because of the Triple Crown, stating what a superb trainer, how he’s mellowed, how responsible and accountable, how he loves his horses, how he brings greatness to the sport, what a god we have here in our midst. Hurl.
Really, how on earth can anyone be so gullible to think that things have changed just because horse racing has a Triple Crown winner?
In three words – “The PETA Video”.
Just like Baffert the drug thyroxine was being administered to many, if not all, horses in Asmussen’s New York stable, without any apparent testing or evidence of any thyroid condition.
This drug was recklessly administered seemingly just to speed up metabolism—not for any therapeutic purpose. Horses’ legs showed multiple scars from being burned with liquid nitrogen―a process called freeze-firing―and burned with other irritating “blistering” chemicals, purportedly to stimulate blood flow to their sore legs.
Horses were also given muscle relaxants, sedatives, and other potent pharmaceuticals to be used for treating ailments such as ulcers, lameness, and inflammation, at times even when the animals had no apparent symptoms. 
Probably the most heart-wrenching part of the video was the treatment of the unfortunate colt Nehro, second in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, owned by Zayat Stables.
“The video details Nehro’s acute foot problems, but despite warnings from a blacksmith that one of Nehro’s feet has become ‘a little bitty nub,’ Asmussen and Blasi continued to train and race him. Nehro died at Churchill Downs on the morning of the 2013 Kentucky Derby.
Asmussen said Nehro had colic and died on the way to the hospital. Blasi described it as the most violent death he’d ever seen.” 
Asmussen fired Blasi after an 18-year association, later to be re-instated, and Zayat fired Asmussen and removed his 12 horses from Asmussen’s care. But where was Zayat when all of this was happening? Where the hell was he? If an owner fails to be accountable for their horses, simply put, they have no business owning them.
And of course, again just like Baffert, this isn’t an isolated case.
Probably the most serious violation was a 6-month suspension he served for a filly named No End in Sight who tested positive for mepivacaine, an illegal nerve-blocking agent that suppresses pain and permits horses to run on injured legs. 
Despite the fact the No End in Sight tested 750 times over the legal limit, Asmussen claimed he hadn’t a clue as to how the drug got into her system.
Given the horse’s history together with the fact that he had ordered cortisone shot a week prior to the race for knee problems, speculation has it that the administration of the drug was intentional.
Yet in spite of all these infractions over the years his devoted assistant Blasi assumed responsibility of Asmussen’s stables so that no horses missed a race. Not a penalty at all.*
Outside of the misuse and abuse of legal therapeutics leading up to a race, Pletcher also has numerous illegal medication violations on his record.
For example, in 2008 the CHRB fined Pletcher $25,000 and suspended him for a minimum of 10 days when Wait a While tested positive for the anesthetic procaine a Class 3 drug in the state of California.
Procaine can act as a stimulant and Wait a While was found to have more than 300 times the allowable limit her system.
In 2004, the horse, Tales of Glory, trained by Pletcher tested positive for the Class 2 drug mepivacaine – the same illegal nerve-blocking agent that suppresses pain that Asmussen received a suspension for.
Pletcher appealed with the tried-and-true excuse of environmental contamination along with other possible explanations for the positive. The appeals court dismissed them all.
However one of the saddest stories to come out of Pletcher’s drug cabinet was that of Coronado Heights.
One need only recall the fate of this 4-year-old thoroughbred who received a diagnosis of early degenerative joint disease. In the week prior to a race at Aqueduct, ten different drugs were administered, often in multiple doses, to quell his unsoundness.
The only reason for this? His ethically challenged owner and trainer – Todd Pletcher – could not bear the thought of losing out on the prospect of winning. Sadly Coronado Heights broke down and was euthanized on the track.
And the rest?
This is just a snapshot of three of the most controversial trainers that represent the “sport of kings” in North America – all of them at the top of the game.
Story after story surfaces about these lying, cheating trainers who should be the flagship ambassadors of the racing industry but instead represent some of the worst offenders. What is clear is that the vast majority of the top trainers in North America resort to illegal and intentional use of therapeutic medications for the single purpose of performance enhancement.
Moreover it follows that if top-tier trainers are participating in this level of “legal” drugging, the competitive rational for trainers at all levels is to run with the herd. And the drug use does indeed percolate down through the murk of the racing industry.
If it sounds like I am accusing everyone in racing of these transgressions, I apologize, I am not. Undeniably there are many good people in racing who love and care deeply for their horses, abiding by their good conscience in doing what is right for the horses. These people are as frustrated as the public.
* Neither the New York or Kentucky state horse racing boards, who agreed to review the Peta video, found anything amiss or worth pursuing in relation to what is out and out abuse of the horses involved, including the tortured and dead Nehro — unless of course you work for the U.S. horse racing industry. —Editor.
Main Photo: Getty Images
American Pharoah surges to victory under a strong whip in the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of his successful bid to win the Triple Crown. Chief steward Barbara Borden says they reviewed the jockey’s whipping of the horse — a reported 32 times in the drive to the finish line — and didn’t see anything that caught their attention. “There isn’t a limit in Kentucky as to how many times a jockey can hit a horse during a race”, pointed out Borden. Naturally. Who would be a horse in Kentucky? Source.
Since the sudden deaths of the seven horses there has been much speculation with regard to the root cause of these deaths, more so now that the results, in effect, have been reported to be inconclusive thereby absolving Baffert of any wrong-doing.
It is a well known fact that Baffert has personal relationships with several individuals on the CHRB — such as Commissioner Bo Derek and departing Chairman David Israel — which has many believing the entire investigation has been compromised by lack of objectivity and a failure to report the truth.
At the very least there is conjecture that some critical details have been omitted to protect Baffert’s character and status in the racing circuit. After all, Baffert is crucial in preserving the vitality of North American racing — at least according to Dwyre (Part 1).
In any case, there are many questions that will now and forever go unanswered. That said there are a number of different theories, which apart from the rat poison, are linked directly with the redundant and fanatical prostitution of the so-called legal therapeutics.
Diphacinone is a multiple feeding toxicant that kills rodents through anticoagulant activity.
Diphacinone works by inhibition of liver-synthesized coagulation proteins leading to internal hemorrhaging and if ingested in sufficient amounts death. This drug was once used in humans as an anticoagulant to treat and prevent blood clots and if taken in the recommended dosages no permanent or life threatening effects occur.
“The effects due to chronic exposure are similar to those expected from an acute exposure, but animal studies and human use experience suggest that there is a level of chronic exposure at which no adverse effects may occur.”
Therefore, as long as the dosage is controlled, it can be taken without any outward signs of damage.
But why would anyone administer an anticoagulant to a horse, particularly since it is a highly toxic compound in EPA Toxicity Class I?
Enter EPO or Erythropoietin.
Although there is typically no medical reason to use EPO in the horse it has been widely used as a performance-enhancing drug despite being an illicit drug in horse racing. EPO increases the number of red cells circulating in the blood.
Red blood cells shuttle oxygen through the blood and increase the amount of oxygen carried to the muscles which in turn increases aerobic capacity and hence endurance.
However increasing the number of red blood cells causes the blood to become much more viscous particularly during strenuous exercise where body temperature increases and dehydration is more prevalent. As a result, the misuse of EPO carries a clear risk for cardiac failure.
Logically, yet sinister in nature from a doping perspective, the administration of an anticoagulant such as Diphacinone will counterbalance the effect of thicken blood. Human athletes routinely use Heparin in combination with EPO-doping. EPO doping in the racing world has been around for years.
EPO is produced naturally in the kidneys and liver and therefore its presence in test samples at the track is not necessarily suspect. Moreover because EPO breaks down rapidly it is often difficult to detect an elevated level in horses. See http://www.new.com/au at http://goo.gl/bLxGak (with the interesting headline How Lance Armstrong’s drug of choice has turned horse racing into a sport for cheats — and what must be done to fix it”).
“Partly it’s because detecting EPO can be notoriously tricky. To be most effective, it is thought by some, EPO needs to be given well before a race–say, 8 to 10 days out, or even longer. But the detection period for EPO can be very short, as little as two days after its been administered. So a horse could be given EPO on a Monday, and by Wednesday or Thursday, it will test clean. That drives suspicion that EPO is still being used. But regulators simply aren’t finding it.”
“The 26-page report said that Baffert acknowledged directing his veterinarians to use thyroxine on all his horses. Baffert, however, was the one who asked his veterinarians to prescribe it, which is in conflict with the policy of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the industry’s most influential veterinary group, which says treatments “should be based upon a specific diagnosis and administered in the context of a valid and transparent owner-trainer-veterinarian relationship.”
Thyro-L is a thyroid hormone (T4) used to treat hypothyroidism, a condition where the body fails to produce a sufficient amount of thyroxine; the human equivalent is Synthroid. The intended result of the medication is to restore “normal” metabolic activity.
Thyroxine should only be prescribed for horses with evidence of low circulating thyroid hormone and then only on the order of a licensed veterinarian.
Dosages should be individualized and horses should be monitored daily for clinical signs of hyperthyroidism or hypersensitivity and response to the medication should be evaluated clinically every week until an adequate maintenance dose is established. See http://www.drugs.net/ at http://goo.gl/JxKI8w.
Levothyroxine has adrenaline-like effects including increased heart rate, palpitations, hypertension, tachycardia, nervousness and increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias. See http://doublecheckmd.com at http://goo.gl/bkwIKx.
Risks of over-medication of horses with normal thyroid function (euthyroid) clearly include adverse cardiovascular indications and symptoms of hyperthyroidism which can be life threatening when combined with other medications — in particular Clenbuterol and Ketamine. When used in conjunction with Clenbuterol it is an extremely powerful fat burner while Ketamine may increase risk of cardiac failure. See http://24hoursppc.org; http://www.rxlist.com/.
Both of these drugs have been and are used on horses to enhance performance, the former legally so. Ketamine, a NMDA receptor antagonist that functions similarly to an opioid/anesthetic, was once allowed at certain thresholds limits in horse racing however it is now a banned substance with Class 2 status (i.e. high potential to affect performance). That is not to say no one uses it anymore — nothing is a given in horse racing, anything goes.
Warfarin is in the same anticoagulant family as diphacinone the so-called first-generation anticoagulants which are characterized as chronic in their action and take several feedings over time to cause death. Recall that diphacinone was implicated in two of the deaths.
When the thyroid function is too high (hyperthyroidism), the anticoagulant effects will be magnified and a “normal” dose of it will therefore cause the blood to be too thin and may result in dangerous bleeding. See http://www.worstpills.org at http://goo.gl/sAlSBv.
It doesn’t take much to put two and two together.
And one last fact about levothyroxine effects to take away with you.
“Levothyroxine can alter the results of many laboratory tests. Tell your veterinarian your horse is on levothyroxine before any tests are performed.”
The ultimate weapon in the war against getting caught.
Some facts that came out of the CHRB investigation clearly demonstrate the negligence on the part of Baffert with respect to the administration of levothyroxine. See http://goo.gl/SlmxAF.
Baffert administered Thyro-L to “ALL” of his horses regardless of their thyroid function using it as a supplement rather than medication. Thyro-L was so routinely prescribed it was dispensed to one of the sudden death victims a week after he had died.
The thyroxine was requested by Baffert and not prescribed by a veterinarian.
It is unclear if the recommended dosage of 12 mg was followed. Barn staff, including grooms, were involved in its administration mixed with feed (i.e. was it metered out? etc.)
There were no tests conducted on any of the horses before or during the time they were receiving levothyroxine to determine whether the horses were hypothyroid or hyperthyroid therefore difficult to know whether any of the horses were put at risk of becoming hyperthyroid. To reiterate – hyperthyroidism is consistently associated with cardiac abnormalities.
What is also lacking in sensibility is Baffert’s alleged reason for administering thyroxine to his horses.
“Arthur added that Baffert said he used the hormone to ‘build up’ his horses, but the thyroid hormone is used for the opposite, to assist weight loss, Arthur said. He called Baffert’s comment “surprising’.”
Who does he think he is kidding? And what is wrong with the CHRB and medication rules in North American racing overall?
This is clearly doping. The fact that a drug is administered when there is no apparent underlying condition present is simply seeking to achieve a surrogate benefit; in this case enhanced performance (speed) due to weight loss.
Of course Baffert gave it to all of his horses. He was legally cheating to win.
There is something perilously wrong when a performance-enhancing drug is legal and considered therapeutic yet poses increased risk of cardiac failure. The abuse of legal medications in NA racing is abhorrent. It is pure and simple doping. To think otherwise is utter denial.
But the CHRB simply dismissed the evidence and used the excuse that because Baffert uses levothyroxine on all his horses this couldn’t possibly be the source of the sudden deaths — blatant favoritism and protectionism for their golden boy Baffert. The facts undeniably expose the flagrant negligence surrounding the use of this drug.
The ubiquitous Clenbuterol — a widely abused bronchodilator medication in the racing industry for respiratory problems regularly used to build muscle by mimicking anabolic steroids even when administered in therapeutic doses.
Clenbuterol increases lean weight, so there is more muscle while decreasing non-lean weight, so there is less fat. This is yet another legal performance enhancer, one that Baffert and others use religiously regardless of whether the horse suffers from respiratory distress or not. Unlike phenylbutazone and lasix there is a mandatory withdrawal time prior to a race. However, clenbuterol has a long half life and its effects will linger for some time.
Also known as ventipulmin, chronic administration of clenbuterol has been shown to negatively alter cardiac function by “altering the internal diameter, thickening the septal wall and increasing aortic root dimensions.” See http://goo.gl/Hgf9oe.
Moreover chronic administration of clenbuterol diminishes its efficacy and worsens the breathing function of the horse.
While clenbuterol used as directed for an underlying air obstruction problem is a good therapeutic drug its use as a performance-enhancing medication is precarious. Particularly in light of the non-FDA approved compounded clenbuterol which resulted in horse deaths including six in Louisiana in November 2006. Unregulated clenbuterol products are illegal and contain varied and unknown concentrations of the drug with unknown and varied effects. This is not to say that Baffert used any of the illegal compounded product but merely a reminder of the risks posed by the use of clenbuterol particularly at elevated doses.
The list of side effects of clenbuterol abuse over an extended duration such as would be typical in the barns of many a trainer, Baffert included, is long and perilous. Clenbuterol increases the size of heart muscle cells due to the increased production of collagen, an inelastic material that reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood and can potentially lead to cardiac arrest. See http://goo.gl/7MhN9l.
Collagen also interferes with the electric signals sent through the heart muscle cells to keep it pumping regularly and may produce arrhythmias (irregular heart beat). This in turn increases the risk of strokes. Further studies in rodents also found that clenbuterol induced heart cell degeneration. Animal studies also indicate that clenbuterol adversely affects the hearts structural dimensions and may cause aortic enlargement after exercise, which increases the risk of aortic rupture and sudden death.
Furthermore, the use of clenbuterol may exacerbate any pre-existing heart condition or blood pressure problems. It is also thought that left-sided cardiac atrophy (wasting away of the left side of the heart) can occur very quickly (perhaps as little as four weeks when taken in high doses).” See http://goo.gl/Kwnyaj.
It is incomprehensible why two drugs administered together — levothyroxine and clenbuterol — each with significant risk of cardiac failure when used inappropriately are not regulated apart from the drug threshold limits imposed on race day.
And this only takes into account two drugs of the countless others that are administered on a regular basis — legal or otherwise. And what other synergystic effects of race medications like lasix and phenylbutazone might exist? One could write a book on the nefarious drug culture of North American racing.
This is the quintessential case of denial from a system so shattered that repairing it seems unattainable.
“When your prime argument boils down to the seemingly rampant drugging of racehorses being OK because the drugs are legal therapeutic medications – without addressing whether a particular horse needs the medication – you are missing the essential point of the case made by those opposing the racing’ industry use of drugs. I doubt there is a sensible person who would oppose medications for an animal who needs it. But when the nation’s two leading trainers are administering drugs – albeit legal ones – without regard for the medical needs of a particular horse, we are no longer talking about therapeutic drugs, but rather drugs they hope will be performance-enhancing.”
See “Time for racing leaders to get their heads out of the sand”, by Tom Noonan at http://goo.gl/Zyxxja.
The two trainers of course are Baffert who fervently administered all of his horses’ levothyroxine while feigning ignorance about its mechanism of action and Todd Pletcher whose zeal to win ended in the death of 4YO Coronado Heights.
Diagnosed with early degenerative disease Coronado Heights should have been sidelined or retired but instead was administered ten different drugs over the period of a week, often in multiple doses to quell his unsoundness. The only reason for this — that his ethically challenged owner and trainer could not bear the thought of losing out on the prospect of winning. http://goo.gl/DR6vGn.
Reflecting back on the musings of Dwyre the absurdity and naivety of his statements should be an embarrassment to anyone with a modicum of intelligence.
“If Baffert is guilty of purposely doing something to harm animals, he needs to be ousted from the sport. But the only sanctioning body that can say that, the CHRB, already has said he is not. So it is time to move on.
Racing needs Baffert.”
In the CHRB we trust. Snicker.
And their golden boy Bob Baffert — the Lance Armstrong of horse racing.