SARATOGA SPRINGS — Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was hit with a one-two punch of bad news on Wednesday, when he was suspended for drug overages involving two of his stable stars, then lost a chance to give Maximum Security his first start since coming to his barn, when Del Mar canceled its weekend racing because of COVID-19.
The 15-day suspension by the Arkansas Racing Commission came in the wake of confirmed positives for lidocaine, an analgesic, for Charlatan, who had been considered a threat to chase the Triple Crown before he was injured, and the undefeated filly Gamine.
Both horses ran on Arkansas Derby Day May 2 at Oaklawn Park, Charlatan winning a division of the feature race, and Gamine winning an allowance race she used as a springboard to take the Grade I Acorn June 20 on Belmont Stakes Day.
Suspensions are honored in all jurisdictions, and Baffert's is scheduled from Aug. 1-15, which means he wouldn't be allowed to run a horse in the Aug. 8 Travers at Saratoga Race Course, pending appeal. He has been considering Uncle Chuck for the Travers.
After Charlatan and Gamine tested positive again from a second sample on July 7, Baffert's lawyer released a statement claiming that the horses ingested the lidocaine after being handled by one of Baffert's workers, presumably assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, who had been administered a pain relief patch for an old injury.
Purse money earned by Charlatan ($300,000) and Gamine would be forfeited.
Baffert was poised to give Maximum Security, who won the 2019 Eclipse Award for 3-year-old males despite being disqualified from first to last in the Kentucky Derby, his first start since coming to his barn in the Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Saturday.
Maximum Security won the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup in February, but by March his trainer, Jason Servis, was indicted by as indicted and charged with administering performance-enhancing drugs to Maximum Security and other horses, following an FBI sting.
The 4-year-old colt had been working steadily toward a return to the races, but a spate of COVID positives among the jockey colony at Del Mar forced the track to close and cancel its racing cards from Friday to Saturday.
With tracks implementing new restrictions on jockeys and their ability to ship from track to track, the New York Racing Association announced a lockdown of its rider colony on Tuesday, and won't allow out-of-town jockeys in or jockeys who leave Saratoga to come back for the duration of the meet.
OPENING DAY STAKES
The 152nd Saratoga meet will begin on Thursday with two graded stakes, the Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies, a traditional opening day race, as well as the Grade III Peter Pan, which typically is a steppingstone to the Belmont Stakes but now offers qualifying points for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
In a balanced field with few stakes winners, the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Peter Pan is Mystic Guide, who will make his stakes debut off a second to Tap It to Win in an allowance at Belmont Park on June 4.
Two horses in the field who have already earned Derby points are Modernist, the Grade II Risen Star winner who was seventh behind Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes, and Candy Tycoon, who has also met Tiz the Law and finished sixth to him in the Florida Derby.
Jockey Junior Alvarado told the New York Racing Association that Modernist could appreciate running a mile and an eighth around two turns in the Peter Pan, instead of covering the same amount of ground around just one turn on Belmont's massive mile-and-a-half main track.
"A mile and an eighth is a good distance for him, but I think last time only going one turn he was a little confused and he was switching his leads back and forth in the race," Alvarado said. "I think that threw him off his game. Going back to two turns and a little bit of an easier group this time, he should be very competitive."
Candy Tycoon currently ranks No. 24 on the Derby points list, but trainer Todd Pletcher said the Peter Pan doesn't constitute a last-chance-for-gas points grab for his colt.
"To be honest, we're not really looking at it as a Derby prep. We'll just try to run well in the Peter Pan and see where we go from there."
Beautiful Memories is the 6-5 favorite in the Grade III Schuylerville off a 10-length win in her career debut at Churchill Downs on May 28.
"You always want to see more than just one time," trainer Mark Casse said. "She's come back and trained well and her last two works have been really good. It was not a shock to see her run the way she did first out. We're hoping for a similar performance, but we'll let her do the talking."