06/11/2003 12:00AM

Bad news for Baffert


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - An appellate court has reversed a federal district court ruling that dismissed a case involving a positive post-race test for morphine from a winner trained by Bob Baffert in 2000.

The ruling was issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on June 6. The ruling, by a three-member panel, said that the district court did not have jurisdiction and that the matter should have been heard in a state court.

By reversing the decision, the appellate court reinstated Baffert's 60-day suspension for the positive test, which was found in tests taken from Nautical Look, the winner of the seventh race at Hollywood Park on May 3, 2000.

The appellate court decision leaves Baffert with the option of appealing the case to an administrative law judge, who would eventually make a recommendation to the California Horse Racing Board. The board could then accept, modify, or reject the administrative law judge's opinion. If the CHRB rules against Baffert's appeal, he could file suit in Superior Court.

Baffert was given the 60-day suspension by Santa Anita stewards in June 2001.

During hearings before the stewards in April 2001, Baffert's attorney, Neil Papiano, argued that the case should be dismissed because the CHRB destroyed a blood test taken from Nautical Look. The morphine positive was determined through a urine sample.

During testimony before the stewards, it was revealed that the blood test was kept by a lab for 45 days, but was destroyed on order of the CHRB, along with samples taken from many other horses, as a cost-saving measure.

During the CHRB hearing, Papiano insisted that the blood test was needed to confirm or deny the results of the urine test.

In its decision, the appellate court panel stated, "Nautical Look's blood samples were not singled out for destruction. The samples were destroyed pursuant to a random practice of destroying one-third of the blood samples at the laboratory and pursuant to the board's policy of destroying split samples after 45 days if no request for testing has been made."

CHRB officials declined to comment on the appellate court decision. Papiano was not available for comment.