11/19/2001 1:00AM

Court rules for Baffert in drug case

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A federal district court judge in Los Angeles granted an injunction Monday against the California Horse Racing Board, preventing the board from proceeding in its case against trainer Bob Baffert for trace levels of morphine found last year in one of the horses he trained.

In his ruling, Judge Dickran Tevrizian cited a lack of evidence, specifically blood samples that were destroyed by the board as part of what the board has called a cost-cutting measure. According to Neil Papiano, the lawyer who represents Baffert and trainer Bobby Frankel in a similar case, the ruling effectively ends the issue.

Roy Wood, the CHRB's executive director who is based in Sacramento, declined to speculate on whether the CHRB would appeal Tevrizian's ruling, saying through a spokesman that he had yet to see the ruling and would not to comment.

Baffert was suspended by the board for 60 days last summer, more than a year after the initial positive test. He then went outside the board to press his case in civil court.

"The board destroyed exculpatory evidence that could confirm or deny the presence of morphine," Papiano said Monday from Los Angeles, where he practices. "It was done without explanation, not once, but twice. Why would you want to save money when you've accused someone and you have evidence?"

Papiano said he filed for an injunction three weeks ago, and Tevrizian heard arguments on the case Monday morning. According to Papiano, Baffert's rights under due process were violated because the blood samples were destroyed.

"What the CHRB did was more than strange," Papiano said. "It doesn't make any sense. They must have heard of the Constitution up in Sacramento."

Tevrizian's ruling is the latest development in a case that dates to May 2000, when the Baffert-trained filly Nautical Look was reported to have tested positive for morphine by Truesdail Laboratories of Tustin, Calif. Truesdail tested the post-race urine sample taken from Nautical Look. A second lab confirmed Truesdail's findings.

Baffert's case was not heard by the CHRB until April, through Santa Anita's stewards. During that hearing, it was disclosed that the levels of morphine found were extremely small. Additionally, the CHRB said it had destroyed the blood evidence in the case when a random number of such blood samples were discarded as part of a cost-saving initiative.

Baffert wanted the blood tested because he thought the urine test was flawed. In May, soon after Point Given won the Preakness Stakes, the stewards issued a 60-day suspension against Baffert.

Baffert obtained a stay of the suspension through Los Angeles Superior Court. The board was in the process of sending the case to the Office of Administrative Hearings before Monday's ruling in federal court.

"I'm still [ticked] off about it," Baffert said from his home in Arcadia, Calif. "It still leaves a cloud of suspicion over me. I feel like they tried to railroad me.

"Something was wrong. The testing maybe. Maybe it was something they ate. Roy Wood knew something was wrong. It was ignorance and vindictiveness that got me into this. It's all going to get thrown out, but who's going to cover my expenses? I got railroaded. I didn't do anything, nothing."

Frankel's case had yet to get as far as Baffert's. The board announced in September 2000 that two of Frankel's horses who raced in June 2000 had tested positive for morphine. Because of numerous delays, Frankel's case has yet to be heard by a board of stewards. Because of a new state law, Frankel's case was scheduled to be transferred to the Office of Administrative Hearings on Jan. 1.

"I'm obviously happy with what happened," Frankel said from his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. "It's good for me. It wasn't my case, it was Baffert's, but it applies to me. The negative is how did it get there in the first place?"