Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit dies at Santa Anita

May 12, 2021; Baltimore, MD, USA;  Medina Spirit stands out side the stakes barn after the morning work out at Pimlico Race Course. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Medina Spirit died on Monday while training at Santa Anita Park. (Tommy Gilligan/Reuters/file)

Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby winner trained by Bob Baffert that tested positive for betamethasone after winning the 2021 Triple Crown race, died on Monday while training at Santa Anita Park.

The horse’s owner, Amr Zedan, confirmed Medina Spirit’s death to Thoroughbred Daily News, speculating that he suffered a heart attack. The California Horse Racing Board’s Equine Medical Director Dr. Jeff Blea told industry publication Paulick Report that the horse ran five furlongs prior to collapsing on the track and that a necropsy is needed to confirm the cause of death. 

“I spoke to the attending veterinarian, and when they got to him on the track he had already expired,” Blea told Paulick Report. “Not sure where on the track it happened, but it was post wire.

“I will have them draw blood and pull hair and will try and get urine for testing. He’ll go out to UC Davis in San Bernardino, for a full and comprehensive necropsy including toxicology, forensics and tissue sampling. We will take a close look at the heart to try and identify the cause of death.”

Controversy after Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby win

Medina Spirit’s Derby win was under scrutiny following the positive test for anti-inflammatory steroid betamethasone after the May 1 race. After denying administering the drug, Baffert eventually acknowledged applying an ointment containing betamethasone daily to Medina Spirit including on the day before the Derby. Betamethasone is legal, but its use is banned in the 14 days leading up to the Derby. Baffert said in a statement that the ointment was used to treat a skin condition.

A second test reportedly confirmed the positive result in June, signaling Medina Spirit’s potential disqualification. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has not yet held a hearing on the case. Baffert’s attorney released a statement on Friday claiming that a lab determined that the steroid was applied topically rather than via injection.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - APRIL 29:   Bob Baffert the trainer of Medina Spirit talks to the media during the training for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 29, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Bob Baffert was Medina Spirit’s trainer. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Derby host Churchill Downs suspended Baffert and trainers associated with his Bob Baffert Racing Stables for two years following Medina Spirit’s second positive test. Baffert is the sport’s most prolific trainer with seven Kentucky Derby winners under his watch. He also has a lengthy history of medical violations with 29 positive drug tests by his horses prior to Medina Spirit. 

Medina Spirit had continued to run after the positive test, including a third-place finish at the Preakness. Zedan stood by Baffert on Monday following Medina Spirit’s death. 

“We have a great team and Bob is an amazing friend and an amazing trainer,” Zedan said, per TBN. “This unfortunately happens sometimes. I have full confidence in my team and in Bob. Unfortunately, this happens.”

Medina Spirit’s is the latest and highest-profile horse fatality at Santa Anita Park in recent years. The Los Angeles-area track temporarily canceled racing in 2019 amid a spate of 37 horse deaths at the track that year.

Christin Hakim

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