Sudden death of Kentucky Derby champion after workout raises red flags

Harry Wilmerding, DCNF

Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, died Monday after the three-year-old colt collapsed following a track workout, multiple sources reported.

“It is with great sadness that I am reporting Medina Spirit passed away today from a heart attack at Santa Anita following a workout,” Medina Spirit trainer and Hall of Fame member Bob Baffert said in a statement obtained by the Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN). “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,” Baffert added.

Medina Spirit won the 2021 Kentucky derby in May before testing positive for a banned anti-inflammatory drug, betamethasone. The positive test resulted in the suspension of Baffert, who denied any wrongdoing.

The colt’s owner, Amr Zedan, confirmed that a heart attack killed the horse in Santa Anita, California.

“I just heard. He had a heart attack,” Zedan said. “It was quick, and he didn’t suffer. It’s unfortunate.

“In a moment like this there is not much that we can do. All I can say is that he gave us a ride of our lives and brought everyone together,” he added. “We are mourning this loss, Bob [Baffert], myself, our team and Johnny [Valezquez], as well. We are all very sad.”

The thoroughbred looked to be struggling towards the end of the workout session and died before a veterinarian could attend to the colt, California Horse Racing Board Equine Medical Director Jeff Blea told TDN.

Racehorse deaths have surged in the last decade reaching over 1,400 since 2020, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. At least 50 U.S. racehorses have died in 2021 alone, with the majority occurring at a track in Charles Town, West Virginia.

Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, sees the growing number of racehorse deaths directly related to the growing number of doping reports, he told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“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 implementations of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act will soon bring legitimacy back to the sport,” Irby added.

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