Updated on 09/15/2011 12:26PM

Baffert to appeal 60-day sentence


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Trainer , who won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes with Point Given, was suspended for 60 days by the California Horse Racing Board on Sunday, the result of a positive test for a trace level of morphine found in one of his starters at Hollywood Park in May 2000.

Baffert and his attorney, Neil Papiano, said they plan to appeal the suspension, which would run June 25 through Aug. 23.

Ingrid Fermin, David Samuel, and Tom Ward, the stewards who issued the decision, heard eight days of testimony on the case at Santa Anita in April. In their decision, they cited two racing rules: The first states that morphine is a class one drug not permitted for use in racehorses and the second is that trainers are responsible for the condition of their starters. The stewards gave no further explanation. A six-page statement is expected to be issued on Wednesday.

An appeal by Baffert would almost certainly result in a lengthy delay before a final ruling could be reached. Initially, the case would be assigned to an administrative law judge, who would hear testimony before making a recommendation to the board. If the board ruled against Baffert, Papiano said that Baffert would turn to the courts for further appeals.

The process could take years. A similar case, involving a clenbuterol positive found in the postrace tests taken from Free House following the 1998 Bel Air Handicap, is still under appeal.

In addition, Papiano said that Baffert will file a federal lawsuit against the board, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when the blood sample taken from the horse, Nautical Look, following her win in an allowance race on May 3, 2000, was discarded. Urine taken from the filly showed the presence of morphine in a postrace test, and a laboratory in Texas confirmed the finding of the first urine test.

The blood sample taken from Nautical Look was part of an unknown number of samples randomly discarded last year by Truesdail Laboratories on instruction from the board as a cost-saving measure.

Papiano said during the hearing that Baffert had requested the blood sample be used to check for the presence of morphine. Judith Seligman, a deputy attorney general who prosecuted the case on behalf of the board, argued in April that the blood test was unnecessary because the split sample of urine confirmed the presence of morphine.

"Federal courts say if you throw away any confirmation tests, you take away a person's rights," Papiano said on Sunday. "They can't throw away your confirming evidence and then hold you liable for it."

Throughout the case, Papiano argued that the trace level of morphine found in the positive urine test - 73 nanograms - was too small to have an effect on Nautical Look's performance. Seligman disputed that argument, stating the amount of morphine was irrelevant because the state does not permit morphine to appear in postrace tests at any level. Morphine, a narcotic, is used as a painkiller.