Shock reports of positive test for Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby favourite Charlatan

Horse Racing Charlatan
Charlatan (Martin Garcia) wins the Arkansas Derby Div I at Oaklawn. May 2020. Photo: Coady

By Nicholas Godfrey

USA: Dramatic news came from the US on Tuesday night with a report that Kentucky Derby favourite Charlatan was one of two high-profile Bob Baffert horses to test positive for a banned substance after winning at Oaklawn Park on May 2.

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The second Baffert-trained horse to return a positive sample is thought to be leading three-year-old filly Gamine, a leading fancy for the Kentucky Oaks.

Charlatan was cut to as short as 4-1 favourite for the Kentucky Derby with British bookmakers after an impressive front-running victory under Martin Garcia in the first division of the G1 Arkansas Derby on May 2.

In a development sure to rock the beleaguered US racing community, a report in the Daily Racing Form said “multiple sources” had confirmed the highly rated colt had an initial sample come back positive.

The news followed an earlier report in the Louisville Courier-Journal suggesting two of three Baffert winners at Oaklawn on May 2 had tested positive, including “one of his top three-year-olds”.

With rumours and innuendo circulating, Baffert issued a statement expressing concern that initial inquiry results had seemingly been leaked.

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Baffert said: “The rules of the Arkansas Racing Commission mandate confidentiality concerning any investigation into an alleged rule violation until there is a written decision of the stewards.

“I am extremely disappointed that, in this instance, the commission has not followed its own rules on confidentiality.”

News that two unnamed horses had tested positive on the Arkansas Derby card was first reported by the Paulick Report, citing an Arkansas Racing Commission representative.

Baffert’s statement added: ”I am hoping for an expedited investigation and look forward to being able to speak soon about any written decision of the stewards, if and when it becomes necessary and I’m allowed to under the commission’s confidentiality rules.”

The identity of the second horse was later revealed as Gamine, who won a first-level allowance race at Oaklawn, after which she was vying for Kentucky Oaks favouritism.

Horse Racing Gamine and Speech
Gamine (Martin Garcia, far side) holds off Speech at Oaklawn. Photo: Coady

Both horses face disqualification if a second test also comes back positive, while a negative second reading would leave results as they are. As such, initial test findings are supposedly confidential until a second confirmatory test has produced a similar result.

One of the most-hyped horses in the world so far this year, Charlatan went wire-to-wire in the first division of the Arkansas Derby, split this year owing to a surfeit of entries.

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Baffert also landed the second division with another top Triple Crown hope in Nadal, who has tested clean, according to the Form.

A disqualification could have a serious impact on Charlatan’s eligibility for both the Belmont Stakes, named as an intended target on June 20, and the postponed Kentucky Derby on September 5. As Arkansas was his stakes debut, the son of Speightstown would be left with no qualifying points.

The only public comment from the Arkansas Racing Commission was ‘no comment’, other than to confirm there had yet to be any rulings from the final day of the Oaklawn meet.

This will not be the first time a Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby contender has been at the centre of controversy over a post-race dope test – and last time it ended with a Triple Crown winner in 2018.

More than a year after Justify completed his Triple Crown sweep in 2018, a New York Times report revealed the colt had been one of seven Baffert horses to test positive for banned substance scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby on his final start before the Kentucky Derby.

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

Although the test result was ignored as officials determined the positive outcome had come from contaminated feed, there were allegations of a cover-up. Scopolomine is commonly found in jimson weed, present in the hay delivered to Baffert’s barn.

However, if Justify had been disqualified at Santa Anita, he would not have had enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby.

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