Heart attack, not drugs, kills Medina’s spirit, necropsy finds

Medina Spirit, the racehorse whose victory in the 2021 Kentucky Derby was thrown into question by a failed post-race drug test, may have died of a heart attack, but an autopsy report n was inconclusive, according to California regulators on Friday. Hair, blood and urine samples showed no evidence of doping.

The colt died Dec. 6 after working five furlongs at the Santa Anita Park racetrack in Southern California. The autopsy was performed by veterinarians and forensic experts from the University of California, Davis.

“No definitive cause of death has been established despite extensive testing,” the California Horse Racing Board said in a statement.

Medina Spirit had swollen lungs, foam in his trachea and an enlarged spleen, all common when horses die suddenly, the council said. These conditions are “consistent with, but not specific for, a cardiac cause of death,” he said.

Last year, 13% of the 71 deaths of American Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses racing in California were classified as sudden deaths.

California officials said it was not unusual to get an inconclusive autopsy result. They cited an international study of exercise-related sudden death in racehorses which found that a cause of death was determined with certainty in approximately 53% of cases, a presumed cause was established in 25% and in about 22% the specific cause of death could not be determined.

Clark Brewster, the attorney for Medina Spirit trainer Bob Baffert, said in a statement that Baffert had hoped the autopsy would provide more information about what happened to the colt. “But it appears his tragic death was an act of God and was not preventable,” Brewster said. “Extensive toxicology testing on multiple samples found no unexpected substances and there was no suggestion that Medina Spirit’s cardiac arrest was caused by medication use.”

The autopsy cannot determine whether Medina Spirit’s victory in the Derby will stand. Kentucky racing officials are meeting Monday to determine whether his first-place finish should be vacated. Medina Spirit’s post-race drug test revealed the drug betamethasone, a corticosteroid injected into the joints to reduce pain and swelling. Baffert’s attorneys said Medina Spirit had a rash on her hindquarters and an ointment used daily to treat dermatitis contained the substance.

At stake for owner Amr Zedan is the Derby’s $1.8 million first-place check, which would be awarded to the owners of Mandaloun, the second runner-up, should Medina Spirit’s victory be invalidated. The victory was also a record seventh in the Derby for Baffert.

The coach’s reputation and his wider future in the sport are at stake as Baffert was banned for two years from Churchill Downs, the track that hosts the Derby. New York racing officials have sought to ban Baffert from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga, alleging at a recent hearing that the trainer engaged in conduct harmful to the best interests of racing, health and the safety of horses and jockeys and its business operations. .

Baffert is fighting these legal battles at a time when the Triple Crown season is heating up and the quest for qualifying points to earn a place in the Derby starting grid becomes urgent. He has three of the most accomplished 3-year-old colts in his stable – two of them, Corniche and Newgrange, are unbeaten.

As things stand, none of his suitors will cross the starting gate of the Derby. Churchill Downs, which hosts the Derby, refused to award qualifying points to Baffert Trains horses.

Last month, Baffert threatened to sue Churchill Downs if the Louisville, Kentucky track does not lift the two-year ban, claiming his right to due process had been violated and he had been unlawfully barred. of Churchill Downs and the Derby, according to a sweeping draft legal complaint obtained by The New York Times. The complaint was not filed.

Bill Carstanjen, the chief executive of Churchill Downs, said the lawsuit was “without merit”, threatened to counter-suit if it were to be filed and pointed out that Baffert was a repeat offender. In the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, the nation’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies, Baffert-bred filly Gamine tested positive for the same substance as Medina Spirit after finishing third.

In total, Baffert’s horses have failed 30 drug tests over four decades, including five in a recent 13-month period.

At odds of 12 to 1, Medina Spirit was a surprising winner of the Derby, America’s most famous race, in May. The colt was sold as a yearling for just $1,000 and was a bargain for Zedan, who only paid $35,000 for him.

The foal’s legacy is as complicated as it is tragic.

Last November, Medina Spirit finished second to Knicks GB in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in what was the last race of a career in which the colt won five of his 10 starts for earnings. over $3.5 million.

It may take years of litigation to determine whether Medina Spirit will remain a Derby winner.

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