Justify won the Triple Crown last year, but new evidence this week seemed to suggest that he and his owner cheated. The horse had tested positive for a banned substance called scopolamine in a drug test taken weeks before the Kentucky Derby. Yet the California Horse Racing Board did not investigate the results, and the thoroughbred was permitted to compete, The New York Times revealed on Thursday.
The board defended its action (or inaction), noting that it had no time to complete an investigation before the Derby, and argued that they operate with integrity.
"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," Rick Baedeker, the executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, told NBC News.
Trainer Bob Baffert is doing some damage control too. He released a statement on Thursday in which he explained that the positive test was likely because Justify had consumed contaminated food.
Baffert maintained that 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." He is "proud to stand by his record and my own."
He was even more passionate in a text to the Associated Press.
"Damn shame this great horse, connections and me have to be put through all this," Baffert wrote. "It was obvious environmental contamination. It's been a known problem in California."
Justify accomplished a feat completed by only 12 other horses, winning all three major horse races in the same year - the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 2018.
Will the Times report prompt a new investigation into whether he rightfully earned those titles?