LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Bob Baffert, the trainer for 2018 Kentucky Derby winner Justify, issued a statement Thursday categorically denying the intentional administration of the drug Scopolamine to the racehorse and said he is "proud" to stand by his record as a trainer.
His statement comes less than a day after the release of a bombshell New York Times report alleging that the colt failed a drug test in California just over two months before winning the Triple Crown. The report claims Justify tested positive for Scopolamine, a banned substance that can enhance performance in large doses, veterinarians say.
"I unequivocally reject any implication that Scopolamine was ever intentionally administered to Justify, or any of my horses," said a statement posted on WinStar Farm's Twitter page and attributed to Baffert. "Test results indicating trace amounts of the drug were undoubtedly the result of environmental contamination caused by the presence of Jimson Weed in feed, a naturally growing substance in areas where hay and straw are produced in California."
Baffert's attorney, W. Craig Robertson III, released a similar statement earlier in the day that called the New York Times report, "long on sensationalism" and "short on facts." Robertson's statement came in the form of a scathing letter released Thursday that accuses the newspaper of defamation.
The New York Times reports test results and internal communications show California regulators waited several weeks before telling Justify's trainer Bob Baffert of the test, which was taken after his prized colt had just won the Santa Anita Derby in order to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
On Thursday, Robertson defended Baffert's "excellent reputation" as both "well-earned and deserved."
"Second, there was never any intentional administration of Scopolamine to JUSTIFY and any insinuation in your article otherwise is not only defamatory, but it also defies logic and common sense," he wrote. "No trainer would ever intentionally administer Scopolamine to a horse. There is zero scientific evidence to suggest that Scopolamine has any performance enhancing properties."
Baffert's statement echoed Robertson's earlier claim that called Scopolamine an "environmental contaminant" contained in Jimson Weed, which he said is common in hay and straw produced in California. He added that the finding of "300 nanograms" of the drug was a "miniscule" amount.
"This is one of the problems with modern day testing," Robertson wrote. "It has become so sensitive that we can now detect trace amounts of substances that are only consistent with environmental contamination -- not intentional administration -- and clearly have no pharmacological effect on a thousand pound animal."
Robertson also responded to a claim in the Times story that the California Horse Racing Board decided to drop the case and lighten the penalty for horses found to have Scopolamine in their systems behind closed doors, rather than filing a public complaint.
He said at the time, he contacted the board and told them he would "vigorously defend" Baffert if the board decided either to disqualify Justify or suspend Baffert.
"Given all of the foregoing facts, I was confident that Mr. Baffert would ultimately prevail if the CHRB pursued the matter," he wrote. "This left the CHRB with two choices -- either pursue a frivolous case that had no merit at great taxpayer expense -- or exercise reason and common sense and decide to take no further action. The CHRB made the wise decision and should be commended, instead of attacked, for doing so. The CHRB did right by all parties, including the industry, in this case."
For his part, Baffert distanced himself from those proceedings.
"I had no input into, or influence on, the decisions made by the California Horse Racing Board," he wrote.
The California Horse Racing Board released its own statement on Wednesday in response to the article, stating that, "We take seriously the integrity of horse racing in California and are committed to implementing the highest standards of safety and accountability for all horses, jockeys and participants."
The board was expected to make an additional statement on Thursday.
Baffert went on to call for Justify's previous testing results to be released publicly.
"Following the Santa Anita Derby, Justify raced in three different jurisdictions during his Triple Crown run -- Kentucky, Maryland and New York," Baffert wrote. "He passed all drug tests in those jurisdictions. I call on the relevant testing agencies in those jurisdictions to immediately release information related to Justify's test results."
Churchill Downs also released a statement Thursday pointing to clean test results:
"Until media reports surfaced Wednesday night, neither Churchill Downs nor the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had knowledge of any potential positive tests that may have emanated from California in advance of the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
We do know that all pre- and post-race tests for 2018 Kentucky Derby participants came back clean, including Justify. In advance of our race each year, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission conducts pre-race out-of-competition testing for every Kentucky Derby starter and all starters’ results were clean. After the race, the top finishers are tested for a myriad of banned substances and the results for all were clean."
For his part, Robertson calls the article "extremely disappointing."
"Horse racing is a tremendous sport and Mr. Baffert conducts himself with honesty, class and character," he wrote. "They both deserve better."
Baffert himself seems quick to defend his own legacy.
"Justify is one of the finest horses I've had the privilege of training and by any standard is one of the greatest of all time," Baffert wrote. "I am proud to stand by his record and my own."
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