Baffert Seeks Stay of Suspension in Superior Court

Baffert Seeks Stay of Suspension in Superior Court
Photo: Mike Corrado
Bob Baffert, seeking stay in court.
Bob Baffert's attorney said Wednesday he will go to Los Angeles Superior Court either Friday or Monday seeking a stay of the 60-day suspension handed down to the trainer by the California Horse Racing Board.

The board denied such a stay in a ruling released Tuesday. Baffert was given the suspension last Sunday by stewards after a horse he trained, Nautical Look, tested positive for morphine after a May, 2000, race at Hollywood Park. The suspension is due to begin Monday, June 25, and run through August 23.

Meanwhile, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association on Thursday issued a statement in response to media inquiries regarding the Baffert suspension.

"It's unfortunate that some of the national coverage of a Bob Baffert-trained horse testing positive for morphine may well have presented a misleading and unfair picture to many members of the public," NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said. "This case, as others like it in the past, involved trace levels of a prohibited substance in a zero-tolerance situation, leaving state officials little or no discretion under current rules whether or not performance was or could have been affected.

"This situation illustrates once again the need for our industry, along with the paramount priorities of protecting our athletes and fans and the
integrity of our competition, to develop common best practices for drug
testing procedures, including the levels used in defining violations. I hope the NTRA's Drug Testing Task Force can make a contribution in this area."

Baffert's attorney, Neil Papiano, said he had never seen a case where the CHRB didn't grant a stay of suspension pending an administrative court proceeding. Board chairman Robert Tourtelot, however, denied the stay, saying that he has never granted one for a medication violation.

Tourtelot apparently was referring only to his tenure as chairman of the CHRB, which began in March of 2000. Stays have been granted to other trainers, such as Paco Gonzalez, during the time Tourtelot has served as a member of the CHRB.

"They had a press release of their decision typed out when we handed them the request for the stay," claimed an exasperated Papiano. "Everything in this case is unbelievable. It's a runaway freight train that never stops."

Papiano was gathering the necessary paperwork to carry the case to superior court. Usually, that court issues an immediate ruling after hearing evidence. Papiano said he hopes that the case stays in the court system rather than having to go back to the board. The superior court can grant the stay and hear the subsequent case; it can grant the stay and send the case back to the CHRB; or it can rule against a stay, at which point Papiano said he would seek relief in a higher court.

The CHRB released their written decision on the Baffert case Wednesday. While they have a zero tolerance policy against certain prohibited medications, the release revealed several mitigating factors that seemed to run at crosscurrents to the board's decision to suspend Baffert, one of the most successful trainers in the country.

Witness Dr. Stepen Barker states, for instance, that the smallest performance-enhancing dose given to a horse would be 50 milligrams, and the likely readout of that would be 5 million nanograms. The readout in the Baffert case was 73 nanograms, or about 1/10,000th of an amount that would affect the horse. Dr. Barker said that amount would be consistent with environmental contamination and inconsistent with internal administation.

In addition, the feed company that supplied Baffert said that "harvested feed is never 100% pure, and that foreign material can be readily found in bales and feed sacks."

Also, the stewards said they were concerned about the circumstances leading to Truesdail Laboratory's randomly discarding blood samples taken from Nautical Look, but that the lack of a blood sample didn't warrant dismissal of the case.

"I keep thinking this is a bad dream," said Papiano. "That it's an April Fool's joke. What is going on here?"

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