LOS ANGELES - Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby-winning horse that failed a drug test afterward and cast a cloud over the victory, died Monday during a workout at Santa Anita race track.
"Following the completion of a routine morning workout, Medina Spirit collapsed on the track at Santa Anita Park and died suddenly of a probable cardiac event according to the on-site veterinary team who attended to him," track officials said in a statement.
Medina Spirit's hall-of-fame trainer Bob Baffer is considered a legend by some for winning races with the horses he had trained.
Others, like Marty Irby, the Director of Animal Alliance who has been working for years on national legislation improving the horse racing industry, calls Baffer is the worst thing that ever happened to racing, adding that he is sad but not surprised about Medina Spirit.
Baffert issued a statement through his attorney linking the horse’s death to a heart attack and saying he was devastated.
Below is the statement released by Baffert's attorney:
"It is with great sadness that I am reporting Medina Spirit passed away today from a heart attack at Santa Anita following a workout. My entire barn is devastated by this news. Medina Spirit was a great champion, a member of our family who was loved by all, and we are deeply mourning his loss. I will always cherish the proud and personal memories of Medina Spirit and his tremendous spirit. Our most sincere condolences go out to Mr. Amr Zedan and the entire Zedan Racing Stables family. They are in our thoughts and prayers as we go through this difficult time."
In a separate statement, CHRB officials said the 3-year-old colt collapsed near the finish line while completing a workout on the main track at Santa Anita.
"He died immediately," according to the CHRB. "This is termed a sudden death. All horses that die within facilities regulated by the California Horse Racing Board undergo postmortem (necropsy) examination at a California Animal Health and Food Safety diagnostic laboratory under the auspices of the University of California, Davis. Cause of death cannot be determined until the necropsy and toxicology tests have been completed."
Jeff Blea, equine medical director for the CHRB, told Thoroughbred Daily News that he saw a video of the horse's workout, and Medina Spirit appeared to labor toward the end.
"He looked like he was struggling the last part, and the rider was pulling him up," Blea told Thoroughbred Daily News.
Blea said the horse collapsed just after reaching the wire at the end of his workout, and by the time the track veterinarian reached Medina Spirit, the colt was already dead.
"Sudden death is the cause of the death," Blea told the publication, speculating that "oftentimes, these are cardiovascular."
The horse, trained by Bob Baffert, won the Kentucky Derby in May but later tested positive for the steroid betamethasone, leading to challenges to the validity of the victory. Officials at Churchill Downs announced that Medina Spirit would be disqualified if the test was confirmed, and it suspended Baffert for two years.
Baffert and his attorney have insisted that the positive test was the result of a topical ointment known as Otomax being used to treat a skin condition, not an injection aimed at enhancing the horse's performance in the race.
While track deaths are not unusual in the horse racing world, Santa Anita Park was previously under scrutiny after more than three dozen fatalities were reported during the 2018-2019 season alone.
Criticisms toward the track include racing horses at the ages of 2 and 3, which is considered before their bones are fully solid, which raises the risk of catastrophic injuries.
Another of Baffort’s great winners, Justified, the horse that won the 2018 Triple Crown, failed a drug test the month before the Kentucky Derby. The California Horse Racing Board took over a month to confirm the results and instead of filing a public complaint, it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for horses found to have the banned substance Justify had tested positive for.
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