Oaklawn Live Racing
Compiled by Nancy Brannon
Photo of Nadal by Richard Rasmussen/AP; photo of Charlatan by Wesley Hitt
Oaklawn’s sping live racing season concluded quietly without fanfare – nor even a press release about the Arkansas Derby. Oaklawn had expanded to a 57-day racing season this year, moving the highlight of the meet, the Arkansas Derby, from April 11 to May 2 (traditional Kentucky Derby Day).
This year Oaklawn decided to split its 84th running of the Arkansas Derby, with both divisions carrying the full 170 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. The Arkansas Derby was originally scheduled to have a purse of $1,000,000. Under the provisions of the split, each division had a purse of $500,000.
In making the announcement in late April, Oaklawn President Louis Cella said, “Because of our national crisis, we and the entire world of sports are in uncharted waters requiring unprecedented actions. We’re trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. On the one hand, it is the worst of times to be racing without fans in our grandstand. On the other, we have a large number of exceptional three-year-olds wanting to run in our Arkansas Derby. We simply did not want to see anyone lose that opportunity.”
Because of COVID-19, Oaklawn had been racing without fans since March 13, 2020. Although fans were not allowed at Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby, the entire closing day card was broadcast on FoxSports1 and TVG.
As it turned out, splitting the Arkansas Derby into two divisions was a boon to trainer Bob Baffert. His two undefeated 3-year-olds, Nadal and Charlatan, were in separate divisions and each won their respective division.
Baffert watched the races on TV from his home in California. He credited the work of assistant trainer Jim Barnes, who had been in Arkansas caring for the stable’s horses, and the rest of his team for these twin victories that were celebrated in style.
In addition to having these winners to head to the Kentucky Derby, Baffert is also training the undefeated Authentic for the Kentucky Derby. Authentic won the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 7 and the Sham Stakes on January 4, 2020, also at Santa Anita.
Eleven horses competed in the first division: #1, Charlatan; #2, My Friends Beer; #3, Mo Mosa; #4 Gouverneur Morris; #5, Jungle Runner; #6, Shooters Shoot; #7, Wrecking Crew; #8, Anneau d’Or; #9, Winning Impression; #10, Crypto Cash; #11, Basin.
Charlatan, with Martin Garcia riding, broke perfectly from the starting gate and went immediately to the lead, increasing his lead by two lengths early on, with Basin coming on second and Anneau d’Or in third. Charlatan led all the way to take the win in six lengths, with Basin in second and the grey Gouverneur Morris taking third.
Charlatan, a chestnut colt, was now 3 for 3, with wins at Santa Anita on March 14 and February 16, 2020.
In the second division, there were nine entries, with #5 Nadal (Joel Rosario in the irons) taking the victory. In second was #4 King Guillermo (Samy Camacho), and finishing third was #1 Finnick the Fierce (Martin Garcia).
Others in the race were fourth, #10 Farmington Road; fifth, #11 Wells Bayou; sixth, #3 Storm the Court; seventh, #7 Silver Prospector; eighth, #6 Code Runner; and ninth, #9 Taishan.
Out of the starting gate, Wells Bayou quickly went to the lead, with Nadal slipping into second and King Guillermo in third on the rail. Nadal pressed the pace up the backstretch, slimming Wells Bayou’s lead to a half length. Around the far turn, Nadal made his move on the outside and was two lengths ahead at the top of the stretch. Nadal won the second division of the Derby by 2 ½ lengths.
Nadal came off a victory in the March 14 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, where he set fractions, but still managed to win by less than a length. Ridden by Joel Rosario, Nadal grabbed the lead early and proceeded to duel with fellow California shipper American Theorem through early fractions of :22 4/5 and 46 for the first half mile. As his rival faded, Nadal held a comfortable advantage entering the stretch and had just enough left to hold off longshot Excession for the victory in 1:44 4/5 for 1 1/16 miles over a sloppy track. (see our April issue for details of this race).
On May 26, 2020 Joe Drape of The New York Times reported: “Two horses trained by the Hall of Famer Bob Baffert tested positive for a banned substance at a recently concluded meet at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, according to a person familiar with the testing process. One of the horses, Charlatan, won a division of the Arkansas Derby on May 2 and was considered a top contender to win the Belmont Stakes on June 20.
“The undefeated Charlatan, as well as his stablemate Gamine, who also won on the May 2 racing card, tested positive for lidocaine, a local numbing agent, according to the person, who spoke Tuesday on the condition of anonymity because the case had not been fully adjudicated.
“The anesthetic 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. In the absence of mitigating circumstances, the horse would also be disqualified and forfeit the purse. Charlatan earned $300,000 for first place.
“It is unclear how the case will affect his eligibility for the Belmont Stakes, which will be the first leg of the Triple Crown this year because of rescheduling related to the coronavirus pandemic. Based on his win in Arkansas, Charlatan is currently ranked fourth on the qualifying-points list for the Kentucky Derby, the traditional first leg of the Triple Crown, which is now scheduled for Sept. 5. Baffert has exercised his right to have a second test run on the samples, which can take a week or longer.
“Lidocaine can be used legitimately for suturing wounds or as a diagnostic tool to determine whether horses are sound enough to compete. The drug may also be present in ointments or creams used on cuts or abrasions. It is regulated because of its potential to mask lameness in an unsound horse.
“ ‘Nothing has come before the commission yet — we do not have the facts,’ Alex Lieblong, the chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission, said. ‘When we get it, there will be no delaying tactics. Anything we can expedite, we will do.’
“Louis Cella, the owner and president of Oaklawn Park, said …’We will not have a situation like in California, where a horse ran in the Kentucky Derby after failing a drug test,’ Cella said, referring to a test failed by Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner. ‘That was an embarrassment to the industry. We will push to have this cleared up by the Belmont Stakes.’
“Last year, The New York Times reported that Justify —trained by Baffert — had failed a drug test after winning the Santa Anita Derby, nearly a month before the Kentucky Derby. The rule on the books at the time required that Justify be disqualified, forfeiting both his prize money and his entry into the Derby.
“California racing officials investigated the failed test for four months, allowing Justify to keep competing long enough to win not only the Derby, but also the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. In August, after Justify’s breeding rights had been sold for $60 million, the California Horse Racing Board — whose chairman at the time, Chuck Winner, had employed Baffert to train his horses — disposed of the inquiry altogether during a rare closed-door session.
“The board ruled that Justify’s positive test for the banned drug scopolamine had been the result of “environmental contamination,” not intentional doping. Baffert has denied any wrongdoing, but the quantity of the drug found in Justify suggested that it was present not because of contamination in his feed or his bedding but rather because of an effort to enhance performance, according to Dr. Rick Sams, who ran the drug lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission from 2011 to 2018.”
Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier Journal wrote on May 26: “A source with knowledge of the situation told The Courier Journal two of Baffert’s horses tested positive during the recent meet at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park, including one of his two winners of the split-division Arkansas Derby.
“The Courier Journal’s source was not certain as of Tuesday afternoon which of Baffert's leading Derby prospects had tested positive. Multiple outlets have since reported the positive test was Charlatan's.
“Baffert responded to an interview request from The Courier Journal with a prepared statement.
‘The rules of the Arkansas Racing Commission mandate confidentiality concerning any investigation into an alleged rule violation until there is a written decision of the Stewards,’ it read. ‘I am extremely disappointed that, in this instance, the Commission has not followed its own rules on confidentiality.
‘I am hoping for an expedited investigation and look forward to being able to speak soon about any written decision of the Stewards, if and when it becomes necessary and I’m allowed to under the Commission’s confidentiality rules.’
“Nikki Langston, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Racing Commission, said the agency ‘has no comment at this time.’
“Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said that ‘the level of scrutiny shouldn’t change’ between the Triple Crown and an ordinary allowance race, but he acknowledged that may not be realistic given human nature and high profiles.
“ ‘You can’t ignore it, but the last thing you want to do is cast a spell on somebody when there’s nothing there,’ Martin said. ‘It sounds to me as if they’re in the figuring-out-what-the hell-happened phase.’
“Earlier this year, the Arkansas commission was compelled to change its drug testing procedures after Truesdail Laboratories had its accreditation suspended by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.”
We wrote to the Arkansas Racing Commission to get more information about this issue. We received a reply from Nikki Langston, who said: “The Arkansas Racing Commission has no comment at this time.”
We also received a reply from Scott Hardin, Spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. He wrote: “I am spokesman for the Arkansas Dept. of Finance and Administration and the Racing Commission is among our divisions (spokesperson for the Racing Commission is ok).
“The Arkansas Racing Commission rules (Rule 1217 Q) state: The results of all tests performed by the primary laboratory or laboratories are confidential until such time a ruling is issued in that matter and shall only be communicated to the commission, commission staff, stewards, owner, and trainer. Notice of a positive test result may be communicated verbally to the trainer. The trainer shall be responsible for promptly notifying the owner of a horse of a positive test as reported by the primary laboratory. The rules may be found in full at https://www.dfa.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/racingCommissionOffice/ARC_2020HorseRacingRuleBook.pdf.
“As a result of this rule, we are prohibited from sharing information on any testing (not referring to any specific case) until a formal ruling is issued. When rulings are issued, we can certainly provide details.
“I’m sorry I’m unable to provide a more thorough response.”
We checked the document to which Hardin referred: the Rules and Regulations Governing Horse Racing in Arkansas. In the Appendix, section 1217. Medication and Prohibited Foreign Substances. D. Threshold Levels (17) states: “The use of lidocaine shall be permitted under the following conditions: Not to exceed twenty (20) picograms per milliliter of total 30-hydroxylidocaine (to include conjugates) in serum or plasma.”
We do not know the amount of lidocaine found in the drug test. If the Mid-South Horse Review receives further information on this case, we will pass along that information to our readers.
After our June issue was published, Horse Racing Nation published an article by Carolyn Greer on May 27, 2020 about the drug reportedly in Charlatan’s test: “Drug reportedly in Charlatan’s test ‘has a role in equine practice.’” Read the full article at: https://www.horseracingnation.com/news/Lidocaine_ban_is_predominantly_a_safety_and_welfare_concern_123
Read more about the use of lidocaine in horses at: “Lidocaine in the Horse: Its Pharmacological Effects and Their Relationship to Analytical Findings,” at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9885969/
Jennifer Hoyt, Media Relations Manager at Oaklawn
Drape, Joe. 2020. “Charlatan, a Belmont Stakes Contender, Tests Positive for a Banned Substance. The New York Times. May 26. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/26/sports/horse-racing/charlatan-bob-baffert-doping.html
Sullivan, Tim. 2020. “Source: 2 Bob Baffert Horses Test Positive for banned Substances during Oaklawn Park Meet.” Louisville Courier Journal. May 26. https://www.courier-journal.com/story/sports/horses/horse-racing/2020/05/26/2-bob-baffert-horses-test-positive-banned-substances/5260314002/Harkins, J D, G D Mundy, W E Woods, A Lehner, W Karpiesuik, WA Rees, L Dirikolu, S Bass, WG Carter, J Boyles, T Tobin. 1998. “Lidocaine in the Horse: Its Pharmacological Effects and Their Relationship to Analytical Findings. Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Dec. 21(6):462-76. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9885969/
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