Earlier that week, The New York Times had revealed that Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion and the favorite to win the 2023 Kentucky Derby until he was scratched the morning of the race, failed a post-race drug test in New York eight months earlier.
The colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, had tested positive for meloxicam, a potent nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to manage pain and swelling, after the Hopeful Stakes. The drug, widely prescribed to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, is not approved in the United States for the treatment of racehorses in training.
New York regulators suspended Pletcher, a Hall of Fame trainer, for 10 days, fined him $1,000 and disqualified Forte.
The sport was badly rocked in 2019 after 30 horses died at Santa Anita Park outside Los Angeles in a span of six months, news that made national headlines and earned the scrutiny of California lawmakers and animal rights activists.
In response, state and racing officials strengthened regulations regarding the use of riding crops and medications for horses; education for trainers and jockeys; track safety; and recuperation policies for injured horses. Last year, 12 horses died at Santa Anita, and thoroughbred fatalities throughout California fell 54 percent from 144 in 2019 to 66 for the last fiscal year.
Asked if similar measures might be implemented not only at Churchill but nationally, Lazarus said: “Everything is on the table.”