USA: Mick Ruis issues legal challenge over handling of Justify drug positive

Justify (Mike Smith) en route to winning Santa Anita Derby in 2018. Photo: Benoit Photo
Justify: tested positive after winning Santa Anita Derby under Mike Smith. Photo: Benoit Photo

By Jon Lees

USA: Mick Ruis, the owner-trainer of Bolt D’Oro, is suing the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) over its handling of a drug test involving Triple Crown winner Justify which raises questions about the horse’s subsequent participation in the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

In a petition filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Ruis has accused the CHRB of carrying out a “cover-up” by keeping secret and subsequently dismissing a drug test failure by Justify after the horse defeated Bolt D’Oro in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby.

Owner-trainer Mick Ruis (right) after training three winners at Santa Anita in September 2017 . Benoit Photo
Owner-trainer Mick Ruis with wife Wendy. Photo: Benoit Photo

Ruis wants the court to set aside the decision to dismiss the positive test finding – thereby allowing Justify to avoid disqualification – and to redistribute the purse.

“As an owner and trainer, I trusted the CHRB to follow its own rules and provide a hearing of the Justify matter,” said Ruis. “Instead, the CHRB has refused to provide me with any recourse. I would never have gone to court if the CHRB had simply followed its own rules. Instead, I have no other choice for myself and for every owner, no matter how big or small, to make sure that everyone is treated respectfully, fairly, and equally.”

Victory in the Santa Anita Derby, the number one west-coast prep race for Kentucky Derby, assures the winner of a place in the field at Churchill Downs. Justify went on to become the 13th horse to claim the Triple Crown with victories in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

The son of Scat Daddy tested positive for scopolamine, a performance-enhancer which can be used to treat colic or muscle spasms, but can also be found in the plant jimson weed, which grows among hay crops.

News of the case only became public in September last year via a story in the New York Times.

Justify’s trainer Bob Baffert responded by denying the substance had been deliberately administered to the colt, saying the finding was caused by environmental contamination caused by jimson weed.

The CHRB was revealed to have reached the same conclusion in dismissing the case at a behind-closed-doors session and then subsequently moving to change the rules to downgrade the penalty for similar breaches to a fine from disqualification.

The Ruis petition alleges: “What little is known about the secretive session points to, among other things, the CHRB intentionally failing to discharge a mandatory public duty to utilize the Horse Racing Law and proper CHRB regulations when dismissing the positive test and then hiding it from the public. 

It continues: “This lawsuit is about the CHRB cover-up which violated its mandatory statutory duty to follow the law and abrogated Ruis’ constitutional, statutory and regulatory rights. CHRB’s malfeasance was the proximate cause of Ruis’ damages including, without limitation, the loss of purse caused by the CHRB’s failing to disqualify Justify and re-distribute the purse for the positive test result.”

The CHRB has not commented.