Medina Spirit, Kentucky Derby Winner That Failed Drug Test, Dies After Training at Santa Anita

Posted on: December 6, 2021, 03:08h. 

Last updated on: December 7, 2021, 08:52h.

Medina Spirit, the Bob Baffert-trained 2021 Kentucky Derby winner under investigation for a failed drug test in that race, died suddenly Monday morning after a training session at Santa Anita Park in California.

Medina Spirit
Medina Spirit, seen here winning the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 2, died Monday after a training session at the California track. The Bob Baffert-trained colt won the 2021 Kentucky Derby, but that win was under review due to a failed drug test. (Image: Santa Anita)

Ray Paulick, publisher of horse racing news site, reported on Twitter that Dr. Jeff Blea, the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), confirmed the horse died on the track.

A subsequent statement from the CHRB said Medina Spirit had just finished his workout when he collapsed near the finish line.

He died immediately… 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,” the statement said.

A statement from Santa Anita indicated the racehorse died “of a probable cardiac event,” citing the on-track veterinary team that tended to him.

That team took hair, blood, and urine samples and sent those to the CHRB.

A cause of death will not be determined, the board said, until the necropsy and toxicology tests have been completed.

Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer, issued a statement saying his entire team was “devastated” by the incident.

“Medina Spirit was a great champion, a member of our family who was loved by all, and we are deeply mourning his loss,” Baffert said. “I will always cherish the proud and personal memories of Medina Spirit and his tremendous spirit.”

Kentucky Derby Investigation Ongoing

Monday’s “unfortunate event,” as Santa Anita called it, took place just days after a new development occurred in the Kentucky Derby case. A 12-1 longshot in the field of 19, the colt went wire-to-wire and gave Baffert a record seventh victory in the classic race.

Late Friday, lawyers for Baffert and owner Zedan Racing Stables released statements regarding new drug tests performed on a sample taken from the Derby winner after that race.

The attorneys said the results showed the betamethasone found in the horse’s system in May was not the form of the drug that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) considers an illegal substance.

Betamethasone is an anti-inflammatory drug, and the tests conducted after the Derby found more than twice the legal limit in Medina Spirit’s system. Baffert claimed the positive test was produced by an ointment used to treat a rash, and not a direct injection, which Baffert’s lawyer has said is the form of the drug against KHRC rules.

The KHRC confirmed Monday that it is still investigating Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby win. If the commission upholds the failed drug tests, then Medina Spirit would be disqualified, Baffert would lose that record, and Zedan Racing would forfeit the $1.86 million prize money. A suspension and fine for Baffert would also be likely.

Baffert is currently under a two-year suspension from Churchill Downs and other tracks the Louisville-based gaming company operates as a result of the failed drug test. Churchill officials took additional action to keep any of the trainer’s horses from running in either the 2022 or 2023 Kentucky Derby races. They did so by prohibiting them from earning points in qualifying races leading up to the Run for the Roses.

“Churchill Downs mourns the tragic loss of Medina Spirit and extends our deepest condolences to his fans and all who loved this horse,” the company said in a statement.

Medina Spirit Racing’s Latest High-Profile Death

Nearly three years ago, the sport of horse racing found itself in the throes of controversy, as dozens of horses died during races or training sessions at Santa Anita, considered one of the premier tracks in the country. The deaths eventually led Santa Anita owner The Stronach Group to shut down for weeks during its winter-spring meet to thoroughly inspect the track.

It also heightened awareness around equine safety and animal welfare issues tied to the sport that date back to America’s Colonial Era.

Those deaths at Santa Anita and other tracks led to The Stronach Group and other track operators – including Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association – pledging to reform the sport and better regulate how and when horses can receive medications before races.

It also spurred legislative action in Washington, where US Reps. Andy Barr, R-KY, and Paul Tonko, D-NY, proposed legislation called the Horseracing Integrity Act. That bill, which the bipartisan lawmakers first offered in 2015, received a groundswell of support on Capitol Hill.

US Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, helped push a similar bill through Congress. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) was included in a consolidated spending bill lawmakers passed nearly a year ago. Like Barr and Tonko’s bill, it will establish nationwide racing regulations for the first time.

Animal Wellness Action Executive Director Marty Irby, a longtime champion and lobbyist for the horse racing reforms that finally passed Congress, said in a statement that Medina Spirit “will always have an asterisk by his name.” Irby blamed the betamethasone tests and his connection to Baffert, who, according to The New York Times, has had horses fail drug tests 29 times during his four-decade career.

“Race-day doping has no place in American horse racing, and we have to wonder if doping contributes not only to on-track injuries and death, but also to post-track health risks,” Irby said.

“American horse racing continues to be ridden with scandal after scandal, but we believe the implementation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act will soon bring legitimacy back to the sport.”