This year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) winner, Medina Spirit, collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack following a five-furlong training workout earlier today at Santa Anita Park.
The announcement came from California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) Equine Medical Director Jeff Blea and Dionne Benson, Chief Veterinary Officer for The Stronach Group, owners of the racetrack.
The immediate cause of death is believed to be sudden death caused by what Blea termed “a classic case of a heart attack” following his review of video of the incident. Blea said the horse completed the workout, then laid down on the track after his rider dismounted.
Speaking to BloodHorse, Benson remarked: “We don’t know the cause. Sometimes, even after the necropsy, we don’t know.” As many as half of the causes of death remain unconfirmed after sudden-death incidents.
In California, the standard procedure is for the CHRB to take blood, urine, tissue and hair samples for laboratory analysis. Those samples will be tested and reviewed at the University of California at Davis. A complete necropsy will also be performed.
“Sudden deaths take longer than normal necropsy because they are in depth,” cautioned Blea in BloodHorse. “I’ve had some deaths well out of 60 days. It’s hard to predict a date.”
Sudden heart attacks happen among racehorses, but they are more rare than fatalities caused by catastrophic physical injuries during training or racing. Of equine deaths in California since Jan.1, 2020, only 13 percent were attributed to “sudden death,” with the majority due to catastrophic limb injuries.
The Eclipse Award competitor for Champion Three-Year-Old was owned by Amr Zedan’s Zedan Stables. He was named after one of the two most revered sites in Islam, Medina, a city in Saudi Arabia.
The three-year-old son of Protonico (out of Mongolian Changa by Brilliant Speed) remained under the training of Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert following his victory in this year’s Kentucky Derby. That win has been marred by a post-race and split-sample test revealing the presence of 23 picograms of the substance betamethasone.
Trainer Baffert has claimed the substance was contained in the ointment Otomax used to treat a skin condition on the horse prior to his Derby run, a condition confirmed by before-and-after photographs in the Daily Racing Form.
However, the substance is prohibited in any amount on raceday in Kentucky, irrespective of its purpose. As a result, Medina Spirit’s Derby win remains in doubt.
As recently as this past weekend, attorneys representing Baffert revealed that tests of the split sample in a mutually agreed-upon New York laboratory confirmed the substance was present, with other ingredients, in a topical cream. It is the injected form of the substance that is thought can be used to alleviate minor injuries, which can result in catastrophic racing injuries.
There has been no immediate comment from Baffert or Zedan Stables following Medina Spirit’s death.
Finishing first in the still-contested Derby, Medina Spirit was a 2 3/4-lengths second to Knicks Go in the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Classic and third in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
Medina Spirit compiled an impressive 10: 5-4-1 racing record and He earned $3,545,300. His owners intended to race him as a four-year-old.
Updates to this story will follow as additional information becomes available.