Request for a Restraining Order on Bob Baffert Over Medina Spirit’s Death and Baffert’s Records of Deaths and Violations
Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, has been avoiding public comment since the tragic death of racehorse, Medina Spirit, winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby. 68-year-old Baffert, is responsible for training around 40 horses at Santa Anita, according to the track, and about 50 horses at Los Alamitos Race Course, another track in Southern California. Art Sherman, trainer of 2014 Kentucky Derby champion California Chrome, acknowledges that Baffert is going through a “hard time” presently but has doubts whether Medina Spirit’s death was directly caused by Baffert.
Clara Fenger, a California veterinarian and board member of the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians said “… it happens because they’re elite athletes with large hearts”. Fenger stated that she cannot comment upon Medina Spirit’s death but commented “Nothing could be worse for the owner, for Bob Baffert, for all of horse racing that this happens.” Fenger also commented “About 15% of racehorses actively training or racing die of sudden death”
The BHA, the Government recognised body responsible for the regulation of horseracing in the UK, states “Despite the best efforts of all involved, as with participation in any sport involving speed and athleticism, there remains an inherent risk of injury that cannot be eradicated. Horses are at risk of serious injury throughout their lives, regardless of the type of equestrian activity they participate in, even when turned out in a field, exercising at home or doing what they were bred to do, namely racing on the track”. It goes on to report that, within the last 20 years, the British Racing equine fatality rate has fallen by 1/3, from 0.3% to 0.2%.
In the USA, President Donald Trump had signed into law the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which promised to reform the sport. Baffert expounded his support for this act, but his sudden support belied the fact that, as reported by The Washington Post in July this year, that at least 74 horses have died in Baffert’s care in his home state of California since 2000; Baffert has the highest rate of horse deaths in California and, during more than 4 decades in the sport, he has faced regulatory scrutiny after 7 horses in his care collapsed in a relatively short timescale at the same California track. Over four decades, nearly 30 horses failed drug tests while training under Baffert, according to the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
This year’s Kentucky Derby win was blighted with the finding of betamethasone being found in Medina Spirit’s race urine samples; this is currently under investigation and may eradicate the victory. Baffert has stated that his vet used Otomax, a fungus-fighting skin ointment with the topical variety of betamethasone, to treat a rash on the horse’s hindquarters, applying it daily for a month until the day before the Derby. Betamethasone is a legal substance but it is not allowed on race day in Kentucky, Marlyland and New York, home to the triple crown series.
Gail Rice, the breeder who helped Medina Spirit’s mother give birth to him three years ago, has found it difficult to accept that he died from an apparent heart attack while training at the Santa Anita track in California. However, Rice is outraged that critics are using his death as evidence that the sport is inhumane and should not continue. She fails to see how people think that racehorses are being abused and that if they saw how much the horses are cared for they “wouldn’t be saying that”.
The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) has reported that 23 fatalities occurred on the Santa Anitia Racetrack between December 20th 2018 and March 31st 2019 and has comprehensively investigated the cause of each fatality. Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, reportedly has an even higher fatality rate, however, does not share information about race-related fatalities with the public.
The official cause of death of Medina Spirit is still awaited as is the outcome of the investigation into the alleged betamethasone traces found in his urine samples on the day of his win at the 2021 Kentucky Derby.