By Ed McNamara
The controversy surrounding Bob Baffert and his Kentucky Derby victory will linger, but first-place finisher Medina Spirit is gone.
The gritty little colt collapsed and died Monday morning after a 5-furlong workout at Santa Anita Park. California Horse Racing Board equine medical director Jeff Blea characterized it as a sudden death that did not involve a leg injury.
In a statement issued by the track, the of death was “a probable cardiac event,’’ according to the onsite veterinary team.
Until a necropsy is completed, there can be no definite answer, and sometimes necropsies are inconclusive. The track said its team of vets took blood, hair, urine and tissue samples to be forwarded to the University of California-Davis’ laboratory. No timeline was given on when the results can be expected.
More than seven months after 12-1 longshot Medina Spirit finished first in the 147th Derby, questions also remain about whether he finally will be declared the official winner. If so, Baffert would surpass Ben Jones’ record with his seventh win in the world’s most famous race.
A week after the Derby, news broke that Medina Spirit had failed a post-race drug test with a positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid. The drug is legal and commonly used as a therapeutic for horses, but illegal when detected in the blood on race day. Attorneys for Baffert and owner Amr Zedan have argued that the substance was applied as an ointment for a skin rash, not as an injection. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to conduct a hearing.
In a statement, Baffert said: “It is with great sadness that I am reporting Medina Spirit passed away today from a heart attack at Santa Anita following a workout. My entire barn is devastated. 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.”
The son of Protanico, not considered an elite stallion, outran his pedigree throughout a 10-race career in which he had five wins and four seconds. The only time he was not part of the exacta was in the Preakness when he was third. He won four graded stakes and earned $3,545,200 for Zedan Racing Stables.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.