The Tarnished Legacy of Trainer Bob Baffert

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“Drop dead while galloping,” read a California Horse Racing Board vet’s account of the first horse’s death in November 2011. It elicited little notice; racehorses die by the hundreds per year in California alone. But they don’t usually die in a cluster from a single barn for no clear reason. After Uncle Sam, a 4-year-old colt, died during a workout at the track the following January, a vet wrote: “This is the 3rd for this owner/trainer in about as many months collapsed and died.”

The owner was Kaleem Shah. The trainer was Baffert…

“His attorney, let me just say, worked very, very hard,” recalled former California Deputy Attorney General Jerald L. Mosley, who represented the state in attempting to uphold the suspension. “That’s the only time I ever had to deal with somebody who tried to go to federal court to stop a state administrative action.”

Finally, in 2005, after the matter had returned to state court, the CHRB dismissed the suspension after an administrative law judge concluded Baffert “had nothing to gain and a great deal to lose by the use of a banned substance on this horse.”

Baffert further solidified his influence in the ensuing years. In 2007, he joined the 15-member board of the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC), a nonprofit that represents the roughly 9,000 CHRB-licensed owners in the state. With upward of $1 million in yearly revenue drawn from wagering at tracks, the TOC’s stated mission included “establishing fair and reasonable medication rules and integrity standards.”

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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