Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit suffers sudden death following a workout

December 6, 2021

The sad rags to riches story of Medina Spirit and a Kentucky Derby controversy

Just about 48 hours post a press release by trainer Bob Baffert’s attorneys announcing Medina Spirit was vindicated for his betamethasone positive post Kentucky Derby test, the horse dies following a workout at Santa Anita

The Medina Spirit story is a sad one that could have been a joyous one. The colt was a true rags to riches racehorse, and should be the three-year old champion based on what he did on the racetrack. Tragically, the colt dies of what appeared to be a heart attack or a sudden death episode following a five furlong workout at Santa Anita completed in 1:01.4.

Excersise rider Juan Ochoa was aboard when this horse collapsed past the finish line at Santa Anita. The rider was not seriously injured, but sadly Medina Spirit was gone.

About 48 hours prior to the Medina Spirit collapsing past the finish line at Santa Anita, Craig Robertson and Clark Brewster, attorneys for Bob Baffert issued the following statements about the post Kentucky Derby betabethasone positive test results:

Craig Robertson:

The testing of the split urine sample of MEDINA SPIRIT has now been completed by Dr. George Maylin, Director of the New York Drug Testing & Research Program.  By Order of the Franklin Circuit Court in Kentucky, this urine was tested “to determine if the alleged topical administration of OTOMAX could have resulted in the finding of betamethasone” in MEDINA SPIRIT following the 2021 Kentucky Derby.  Those results have now definitively confirmed that the betamethasone present in MEDINA SPIRIT’s system did indeed come from the topical ointment OTOMAX and not an injection.  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.

The betamethasone in an injection is betamethasone acetate.  The betamethasone in the topical ointment is betamethasone valerate.  Only betamethasone acetate is addressed and regulated in the rules of racing in Kentucky.  Thus, the presence of betamethasone valerate in MEDINA SPIRIT, which resulted from a topical ointment, is not a rules violation.  Dr. Maylin’s testing not only confirmed the presence of betamethasone valerate, but also the absence of betamethasone acetate.  This should definitively resolve the matter in Kentucky and MEDINA SPIRIT should remain the official winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Since May, Mr. Baffert has been the subject of an unfair rush to judgment.  We asked all along that everyone wait until the facts and science came to light.  Now that it has been scientifically proven that Mr. Baffert was truthful, did not break any rules of racing, and MEDINA SPIRIT’s victory was due solely to the heart and ability of the horse and nothing else, it is time for all members of racing to come together for the good of the sport.  Mr. Baffert has been a tremendous ambassador for the sport throughout his 46 year Hall of Fame career and he has every intention of continuing to do so.

Clark Brewster:

As Legal counsel for, and on behalf of, Abr Zedan and Zedan Racing Stable, owner of Medina Spirit, winner of the 147th Kentucky Derby, it is extremely gratifying to learn that the New York Racing Laboratory through its Director Dr George Marlin has scientifically confirmed that no Betamethazone Acetate was found in the post race urine specimen of Medina Spirit. Dr Maylin reported that components of an ointment used to treat a skin lesion was confirmed through metabolite confirmation and that no Acetate that is part of the injectable Betamethazone was present. The Kentucky Racing Commission has steadfastly enacted rules relating to corticosteroid joint injection and have drawn a bright line rule that no injections are permitted within 14 days of a race. Now there is zero doubt that the 14 day rule some thought might have been violated by the earlier less specific testing is revealed as premature judgment. That groundless accusation is without scientific merit. Zedan is proud to have stood by Bob and is ecstatic that Medina Spirit will receive the honor of his great victory.

Although the actual results have not been made public of yet, and these are the statements of Bob Baffert’s attorneys, it is reasonable to believe they are accurate. Whether it will make a difference to the ruling body, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission if it was an ointment or an injection remains to be seen. If we take the statement at face value, Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby without any PED or performance enhancing drug.

Medina Spirit came from modest beginnings. He was bred by Gail Rice, the mother of former jockey Taylor Rice who is married to top jockey Jose Ortiz. As a result of a divorce Medina Spirit was sold at the Ocala Breeders Sale OBS Winter Mixed sale and brought just $1000. At the 2020 OBS July sale Gary Young recommended the colt to Amr Zedan who bought him for $35,000.

Medina Spirit was by Protonico out of the mare Mongolian Changa. Mongolian Changa failed to produce milk for the foal and Gail Rice used her other mare, Scribbling Sarah to nurse the foal. The colt did well and Mongolian Changa started to produce milk and things went fine.

The colt always showed talent but was never at the head of the class in the powerful Baffert barn until it mattered most. Although he was frequently referred to as being small, he was actually a big strong and strapping colt. The talent he showed blossomed on the first Saturday in May when he won the Kentucky Derby as somewhat of a surprise. He had throat surgery following the San Felipe and that seemed to help him turn things around and go to the next level.

Jeff Metz, the Southern California trainer is a Past the Wire contributor. His son Josh galloped and worked Medina Spirit several times early in his three-year old career. Jeff told me Josh always felt Medina Spirit could be a champion.

His Kentucky Derby victory party was short lived. His post race test was positive for betamethasone, a legal therapeutic medication that is banned on race day. What resulted after was utter chaos and disfunction as typically seen in our industry. Trainer Bob Baffert became public enemy number 1, and people seemed to just conclude Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby, run under the strictest protocols the race had ever seen, with the help of an illegal PED or performance enhancing drug.

Medina Spirit won the Grade 1 Awesome Again against older horses earning a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He went on to finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to Knicks Go the likely Horse of the Year. Medina Spirit raced against champion two-year old Essential Quality two times and beat him both times. Essential Quality is probably the main competition for Medina Spirit for the three-year old championship, and Essential Quality has never beaten the rags to riches colt. Championships are won on the racetrack, and this one should be no different.

Bob Baffert released the following statement about Medina Spirit:

“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 by this news. 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. Our most sincere condolences go out to Mr. Amr Zedan and the entire Zedan Racing Stables family. They are in our thoughts and prayers as we go through this difficult time.”

Santa Anita Park released the following statement about Medina Spirit:

“Following the completion of a routine morning workout, Medina Spirit collapsed on the track at Santa Anita Park and died suddenly of a probable cardiac event according to the on site veterinary team who attended to him.

“The Santa Anita Park veterinary 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 results of the necropsy and toxicology studies will be released by the California Horse Racing Board as part of their inquiry into the cause of this unfortunate event.

“Medina Spirit will be missed by all those who worked with and cared for him. He was owned by Zedan Racing Stables and trained by Bob Baffert.”

Medina Spirit was kept in training after the Breeders’ Cup Classic with an eye on the Saudi World Cup. Medina Spirit’s career ended with five wins, four seconds and a third from 10 starts, and earnings of $3,545,200. Not bad for a colt you could have had for $1000, $35,000, and he passed away a Kentucky Derby winner. They can’t take that away now.

We don’t see may Kentucky Derby winners today race at four. Medina Spirit would have been a welcome exception to what has become practically a rule. There is no reason not to think the horse would have gotten better. The horse is a huge loss to the racing community and his story of being a true rags to riches Derby winner should not be lost also.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

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