The stewards said in a ruling that the suspension will run from Aug. 1 -15. They found Baffert violated Rule 1233, which states that a trainer shall ultimately be responsible for the condition of any horse that is entered regardless of the acts of any third parties.
His horses Charlatan and Gamine each tested positive for lidocaine in two rounds of testing after winning races at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, track on May 2. The stewards disqualified both horses and stripped them of their purse earnings. Charlatan's owners lost $300,000 in purse money; Gamine’s owners forfeited $36,000.
“We’re just very disappointed because we thought we put on a very compelling defense that it was innocent contamination,” Baffert told The Associated Press. “We’re definitely going to appeal it.”
In a hearing before the stewards on Monday, Baffert and his representatives argued that the horses were accidentally exposed to lidocaine by assistant trainer Jim Barnes, who had applied a medicinal pain patch to his own back. Barnes had previously broken his pelvis and the patch he used contained trace amounts of lidocaine. The drug was transferred from his hands through the application of tongue ties on both horses, Baffert's representatives said.
“People in the industry are aware that we haven’t done anything wrong,” Baffert told the AP.
Lidocaine, a widely used anesthetic in racing, is considered a Class 2 drug by the Association of Racing Commissioners International and use of it carries a penalty of a 15- to 60-day suspension and a fine of $500 to $1,000 for a first offense. The drug’s use is regulated because it can act as a masking agent.
The stewards did not announce the levels of lidocaine found in either horse. However, Baffert said in a statement earlier this month that the level in Gamine was 185 picograms, while Charlatan had 46 picograms. A picogram is a trillionth of a gram.
Mike Marten, spokesman for the California Horse Racing Board, said it would honor Baffert’s suspension. Under board rules, he would not be allowed in a track’s stable area and could not enter a horse; however, his horses could run in an assistant’s name.
Baffert's attorney, W. Craig Robertson, said he would pursue an appeal with the Arkansas Racing Commission.
“The trace levels of lidocaine found in both Charlatan and Gamine would have had no pharmacological effect, much less a performance enhancing one, on either horse. Zero,” Robertson said in an email. “This is a case of innocent exposure and not intentional administration. A suspension of Mr. Baffert and a disqualification of either horse is completely unwarranted.”
Charlatan tested positive after winning a split division of the Arkansas Derby. The 3-year-old colt has been sidelined by a minor ankle issue that forced him to miss the Belmont Stakes on June 20 and will keep him out of the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. Baffert has said the Preakness on Oct. 3 remains a possibility. The Triple Crown series has been rescheduled and is being run out of order because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gamine, a 3-year-old filly who won an allowance race at Oaklawn, won her most recent start in the Acorn Stakes on June 20 at New York’s Belmont Park. She romped by 18 3/4 lengths in stakes-record time.