Report: Triple Crown Winner Justify Failed Drug Test Ahead Of Kentucky Derby

Illustration for article titled Report: Triple Crown Winner Justify Failed Drug Test Ahead Of Kentucky Derby
Photo: Jim McIsaac (Getty)

Explosive news out of the world of horse racing today: Justify, the colt that ruined the mystique of one of sports’ all-time legendary feats last summer, reportedly tested positive for a performance enhancing substance in the weeks ahead of the Kentucky Derby. Under the rules in place at the time, Justify normally would’ve been disqualified from that race, and therefore ineligible for the Triple Crown.


The New York Times tracked down documents, emails, test results, and internal memorandums that show that Justify failed a post-race drug test following a crucial win at the Santa Anita Derby in early April 2018—a win Justify needed in order to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, held in May.

As is customary, blood and urine samples from Justify and 34 other horses who competed on the day of the Santa Anita Derby were delivered on April 10 to a lab at the University of California, Davis.

The lab sent notice on April 18, two and a half weeks before the Kentucky Derby, that Justify had tested positive for scopolamine, which is normally used to treat stomach or intestinal problems, such as nausea and muscle spasms, in humans.

The face of a horse who knows he got away with something.
The face of a horse who knows he got away with something.
Photo: Andy Lyons (Getty)

The amount of the drug in Justify’s system is apparently considered “excessive,” and suggests “intentional intervention,” according to an expert who spoke with the Times. Scopolamine reportedly “can act as a bronchodilator to clear a horse’s airway and optimize a horse’s heart rate, making the horse more efficient.” In my opinion they should also take a look at its effects on a horse’s muscles, because Justify looks totally fuckin’ jacked in photos from that time. Suspicious!

Scopolamine doping is apparently not unheard of in horse racing, with the Times reporting that previous cases have resulted in “disqualifications, purse reimbursements, fines and suspensions over the decades.” Here it appears the California Horse Racing Board—the chairman of which reportedly has a business relationship with Justify’s trainer—may have dragged its feet in order to avoid taking action against a valuable horse after a signature win, and ahead of a shot at horse racing’s biggest prize. The board reportedly took weeks to even tell Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert about the failed drug test, and then another four months to close its inquiry, which it did in hushed, suspect fashion:

It decided, with little evidence, that the positive test could have been a result of Justify’s eating contaminated food. The board voted unanimously to dismiss the case. In October, it changed the penalty for a scopolamine violation to the lesser penalty of a fine and possible suspension.


By the time the board had finished ignoring its rules and then overhauling them, Justify was already soaking in the glory of having won the Triple Crown. Remember also that Justify was accused of benefiting from a little unsportsmanlike help in his Belmont Stakes win to seal the deal. Truly a dastardly horse. Now his horse chickens are finally coming home to horse roost—there’s enough evidence of funny business in this report to lock Justify in horse jail and throw away the horse key.

Staff Writer, Deadspin