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Positive drug tests for Bob Baffert’s horses sets up legal battle

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.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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