Disputed Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit dies after workout

by 24USATVDec. 7, 2021, 5 a.m. 20
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Medina Spirit, the disputed winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, died Monday of a heart attack after a workout at Santa Anita Park, trainer Bob Baffert said.

“My entire barn is devastated by this news,” Baffert wrote in an email. “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.”

According to a statement from Santa Anita Park, a team led by Senior Veterinarian Dr. Laurie Bohannon “immediately took blood, hair and urine samples from Medina Spirit. Those samples were sent to the California Horse Racing Board. A full necropsy, as per protocol in California, run by the University of California-Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine will be performed to try and ascertain the exact cause of this sudden death.”

The CHRC will release the necropsy and toxicology studies at a later date.

Churchill Downs released the following statement: "Churchill Downs mourns the tragic loss of Medina Spirit and extends our deepest condolences to his fans and all who loved this horse."

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At 12-1 odds, Medina Spirit and jockey John Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby on May 1 by a half-length over Mandaloun. It was the seventh Kentucky Derby victory for Baffert, breaking a tie with Ben Jones for the most by a trainer in the race’s 147-year history.

But a week later, Medina Spirit and Baffert became the subject of a controversy that still hasn’t been resolved. On May 9, Baffert revealed Medina Spirit has tested positive for 21 picograms of betamethasone.

Betamethasone is a corticosteroid, meaning it’s a man-made steroid that resembles cortisol, a natural hormone produced by the adrenal gland. While legal as a therapeutic aid for horses, it is illegal when found in the blood on race day because it’s considered a possible performance-enhancer.

Churchill Downs has said Mandaloun will be declared the Kentucky Derby winner if the findings of Medina Spirit’s positive test are upheld. Churchill Downs stewards rule on disqualifications, and Baffert could appeal any decision to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Baffert’s camp, including owner Amr Zedan, filed an injunction against the KHRC in June in an effort to show the betamethasone detected in the horse’s blood samples was from a topical ointment and not an injection.

On Friday, Baffert’s lawyer Craig Robertson said results of a split urine sample from Medina Spirit confirmed the betamethasone present in the horse’s system following the Kentucky Derby came from the topical ointment Otomax.

“In other words, it has now been scientifically proven that what Bob Baffert said from the beginning was true – Medina Spirit was never injected with betamethasone and the findings following the Kentucky Derby were solely the result of the horse being treated for a skin condition by way of a topical ointment – all at the direction of Medina Spirit’s veterinarian,” Robertson’s statement said.

According to Dr. Mary Scollay, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the race-day presence of a Class C drug such as betamethasone means a “non-negotiable” disqualification.

“How it got into the horse does not negate that it was in the horse,” Scollay said.

Baffert is serving a two-year suspension at Churchill Downs, running through the end of the 2023 Spring Meet. That will include the 2022 and 2023 Kentucky Derbys.

According to a Washington Post story in June, at least 74 horses had died in Baffert’s care in his home state of California since 2000, more than all but two of hundreds of trainers in the state, according to a Post analysis of data and public records. But when factoring in the number of races run, Baffert’s horses had died at the highest rate of the 10 trainers who had the most horse deaths.

The 3-year-old Medina Spirit recorded a 5-4-1 record in 10 career starts and earned $3,545,200 for Zedan Racing Stables.

A son of Protonico out of the Brilliant Speed mare Mongolian Changa, Medina Spirit prepped for the Kentucky Derby at Santa Anita Park with a victory in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis and runner-up finishes in the Grade 3 Sham, Grade 2 San Felipe and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

After winning the Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit finished third in the Preakness and then got a 3 ½-month break from racing. He returned with victories in the Shared Belief at Del Mar and the Grade 1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita before closing his career Nov. 6 with a runner-up finish to Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar.

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