A second set of tests on blood samples taken from two of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s horses has confirmed the presence of lidocaine, but the finding is likely to be an opening volley in a drawn-out legal battle over horse racing’s testing regimen rather than a final word.
Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson III, on Monday confirmed the positive results of retests of “split samples” collected from the unbeaten 3-year-olds Charlatan, winner of a division of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, and Gamine, a filly who captured an allowance/optional claiming race on the Oaklawn Park undercard that day, but said both horses were “unknowingly and innocently exposed” to the drug before their failed drug tests.
According to the statement, an employee who had previously fractured his pelvis had applied a lidocaine-laced Salonpas pain relief patch to his back and inadvertently transferred some of the drug to the horses while applying their tongue ties.
Robertson also said the amounts of lidocaine detected were extremely small — 185 picograms (a picogram is a trillionth of a gram) for Gamine and 46 picograms for Charlatan — and would not have enhanced their performances. He indicated that Baffert intended to defend the cases before the Arkansas Racing Commission.
We may find out more soon, as the Daily Racing Form quoted a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the racing commission, as saying that the stewards are likely to rule on the matter next week.
A local anesthetic, lidocaine has a variety of uses in equine medicine, including numbing an injury requiring sutures or staples, helping trainers determine a source of lameness, or for rashes or other skin abrasions.
But it’s also a Class 2 substance, according to the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which means it is not allowed at any level on race days. Regulators can impose substantial penalties — including disqualification — if residues are identified in postrace urine samples.
Perhaps more to the point, using lidocaine to help a sore horse win a race would be one of the stupider ways you could try to cheat.
“It would be a foolish decision to think you would not get caught,” Dr. Mary T. Scollay, executive director and chief operations officer for the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium in Lexington, Kentucky, told Bloodhorse.com this week. “Everyone knows the labs will find it.”
Keeneland, Del Mar open
Two of the stars of summer racing are back in action with fanless racing, though in the case of Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, you won’t want to blink or you’ll miss it.
Keeneland opened its five-day minimeet Wednesday and will close Sunday until racing resumes for the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 6 and 7. The track isn’t skimping on the added-cash events in the meantime. Its Saturday card will be highlighted by the $600,000 Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 2) for 3-year-olds, the $400,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (Grade 1), the $350,000 Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes (Grade 1) and $250,000 Madison Stakes (Grade 1).
Del Mar will hang around longer, with its meet opening Friday and continuing through Sept. 7. The track “where the surf meets the turf” will have racing Fridays through Sundays, with an additional card on Labor Day.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers are starting off a new three-month handicapping contest by hunting the winners of Saturday’s $600,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the $65,000 Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar.
In the former, a 1⅛th-mile race scheduled to go to post about 2:30 p.m. PT, the crew is backing 3-1 morning line favorite Swiss Skydiver to become the first filly to win the Blue Grass since its first running in 1937. They see Art Collector (5-1) finishing second and Shivaree (8-1) and Man in the Can (10-1) deadheating for the show. The race will be shown on TVG and livestreamed at Keeneland.com.
Hate to get off on a bad foot with the gang, but I’m going with Basin (8-1), hoping the Steve Asmussen-trained colt can keep Swiss Skydiver in his sights early and run her down in the lane. I have Swiss Skydiver and Enforceable (10-1) rounding out my top three.
In the Wickerr (post time approximately 5:37 p.m. PT), a restricted stakes for 3-year-olds and up at a mile on the turf, the crowd ’cappers are as evenly split as you’ll see, with Bob and Jackie (8-1) and 3-1 morning line favorite Kiwi’s Dream deadlocked atop the heap. They have Voodoo Song (4-1) finishing close behind.
I think a big class drop and his blazing speed will land Voodoo Song in the winner’s circle for the first time since August 2018, but I’m also intrigued by Jasikan (8-1), who will make his first start for jockey-turned-trainer Juan Leyva. I’ll use deep closer Big Score (7-2) for third.
Ellis Starr’s Blue Grass Stakes analysis
It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes to conclude there are two strong contenders to win this year’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, and one very interesting long shot. Additionally, there a number of other horses which have all been second or third at the level and could vie for a spot on exacta and trifecta tickets.
Art Collector started his career on turf, winning one of three races, then moved to dirt and won his second start on the surface in November. Taking time off to mature until May, Art Collector has really improved in the late spring. Coming back to the races on May 17, Art Collector won a dirt sprint in “ridden out” fashion after rallying from seventh of 11 early. Then, when stretched out to two-turns on dirt for the first time, he won even more easily, earning a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure while leading from start to finish. To put that effort and figure into perspective, likely favorite Swiss Skydiver earned 104 and 108 figures, respectively, winning two important stakes in the Kentucky Oaks division in May and June about the same time Art Collector earned 97 and 106 figures, respectively. Trainer Tom Drury may not be a household name but he’s been very good at his craft for some time and knows how to keep a horse fit. According to a STATS Race Lens query, over the last five years Drury has won 20 of 66 races with horses in dirt routes back-to-back. Considering Art Collector has shown he can win leading from the start or when coming from off the pace and that he is making his third start off a layoff and can improve, he has a big shot to win the Blue Grass Stakes.
Swiss Skydiver is the biggest impediment to Art Collector winning in my opinion. Starting with a win in the Gulfstream Park Oaks in March with a 99 figure when leading from start to finish, Swiss Skydiver improved to a 104 figure winning the Fantasy Stakes in May before easily winning the Santa Anita Oaks last month with a new career-best 108 figure. In the Fantasy, Swiss Skydiver sat in second about three lengths from the leader in the early stages so although she won the other two stakes leading from the start she has proven she does not need the lead to win. She also gets a 5 pound break in the weights because she faces males, which could make the difference of a length or two at this 1 1/8th mile trip. Jockey Mike Smith, who was aboard in the Santa Anita Oaks, comes out from California to ride and if she repeats her last effort, or improves upon it, Swiss Skydiver could get on the “Road to the Derby” leaderboard and have her choice of the Kentucky Oaks or Kentucky Derby come the first Saturday in September.
Among a number of horses which may be just a cut below the top two but still may have a chance to be second, third or fourth, I think Tiesto deserves special mention. He won his debut last summer in a two-turn race on turf which is no easy task. After a sixth place finish in a stakes on grass, Tiesto was given four months off and returned in the Palm Beach Stakes, which was statement of confidence on the part of his Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Rewarding that confidence with a runner-up effort, Tiesto then found himself far back in 10th in the early stages of a race on May 30 before rallying for third. Mott now tries dirt for the first time, and that’s very intriguing given how well the trainer knows when horses can transition from turf to dirt and the horse’s pedigree. His sire (Tiznow) produced the 2017 Blue Grass Winner Irap and his dam produced 2018 Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Promises Fulfilled. Looking at records of previous horses Mott has done this with is really easy using STATS Race Lens and it reveals a record of six-for-23 in the last five years when going from turf to dirt in stakes, including Good Samaritan’s win in the Jim Dandy Stakes, an important race for three year olds in 2017, and Yoshida winning the 2018 Woodward Stakes. Mott also has come in under the radar with 3-year-olds making their second starts off layoffs in Derby preps the last few years, winning twice, with Modernist in this year’s Risen Star Stakes, and with Tacitus in the 2019 Wood Memorial. Additionally, Mott saddled Hofburg to a second place finish in the 2018 Florida Derby and Country House to a runner-up finish in the 2019 Risen Star. All-in-all, Mott’s prowess in knowing the quality of his horses has me absolutely wanting to make a bet on Tiesto at high odds in the Blue Grass Stakes.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: Attachment Rate (99), Basin (96), Enforceable (97), Finnick the Fierce (99), Hard Lighting (96), Hunt the Front (93), Mr. Big News (96), Man in the Can (98), Rushie (101) and Shivaree (106).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.