On Monday, Nov. 19, a federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed the California Horse Racing Board's case against trainer Bob Baffert over a morphine positive found in a post-race urine sample of a Baffert-trained horse last year.
Judge Dickran Tevrizian ruled in a 29-page decision that the board's testing facility, Truesdail Laboratories, threw away Nautical Look's blood sample, which could have proven Baffert's innocence. "There is no way to tell if the urine sample was flawed or accurate without the blood, and the blood was thrown away on two different occasions intentionally, which was a violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment," wrote the judge.
"The duty to preserve constitutionally material evidence applies to all administrative hearings, and plaintiff (Baffert) will suffer irreparable injury if this matter goes forward."
The ruling is likely to affect other drug-positives brought by the CHRB against various trainers. One case, against Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, almost surely will be thrown out because the facts are the same as in Baffert's case, with blood samples having been tossed away.
Baffert regretted the "cloud of suspicion" that has formed over him because of the case, which began when Nautical Look tested positive for morphine after a May, 2000, race at Hollywood Park.
"I don't think the decision could have been much stronger," said Baffert's attorney, Neil Papiano. "I'm deliriously happy. We will go after court costs in a subsequent hearing."
The CHRB this spring handed down a 60-day suspension to Baffert that would have begun June 25 over the positive, and subsequently turned down a stay of the suspension, pending an administrative court proceeding. Papiano, however, received the stay from a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, and Baffert never served a day of the suspension.