HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 16, 2022–According to science, the chances of determining the cause of sudden death in race horses barring physical injury is a 50-50 proposition.
That’s what was learned from a FEB 11 press conference hosted by the California Horse Racing Board which released a summary of the necropsy report from UC-Davis on Medina Spirit.
So, is anyone surprised that no causation for the death of a Kentucky Derby champion who died suddenly after finishing a workout at Santa Anita Park in December was identified?
And, if no necropsy had been performed, would anyone be shocked if the cause of death went undetermined indefinitely?
Such is the state of mistrust in horse racing with its lack of transparency. Regrettably, the answer to the above questions is contained within horse racing’s past performances, which are dismal at best.
And please don’t blame the victims, horseplayers and true fans, for being cynical, jaded, or paranoid. They’ve paid their dues.
Subsequent to the report we’ve learned that the best educated guess is that horses whose hearts suddenly stop beating is caused by something resembling arrhythmia.
The science is unclear because equine hearts do not leave tell-tale signs in the manner human hearts do. So did Medina Spirit’s heart stop due to some electrical shockwave phenomenon?
That’s probably more like a 60-40 scenario.
Even in a situation involving trainers with a reputation for coloring outside the lines, scientific reality indicates that a case for reasonable doubt can be made considering all the variables in the testing process.
We are prepared to be disappointed. If that reaction is wrong I will be the first to apologize. Until then, I’ll rely on the PPs.
If administrators, judicial or otherwise, acknowledge the uncertainty of science in instances like this, how can guilt or innocence be assigned with any certitude beyond the shadow of doubt?
Areas of research included an examination to see whether unusual amounts of blood existed in a horse’s spleen or lungs. Pooling could interfere with the normal blood pumping process. Allergic reactions also can inhibit blood flow.
It was determined, however, that betamethasone, the substance for which Medina Spirit tested positive post-Kentucky Derby, did not have an impact on the horse’s life.
The use of EPO is a popular theory consistent with observations that horses from certain barns never seem to tire. Fifty years ago, seemingly defeated horses battled their way back to victory by winning an eyeball test of wills.
But re-breaking is a phenomenon more closely tied to the modern era; chemical courage. The problem is there are too many EPO synthetics, nearly impossible-to-find derivatives, exceeded only by the expense involved in finding them.
Some observers have remarked that the CHRB defines and sets parameters for necropsies. There are tests that strongly suggest the possibility of blood doping, but testers need to be looking earnestly.
In states such as California—and Kentucky—transparency seemingly happens only to stakeholders who run afoul of power brokers. The public is entitled to a complete, transparent report, not a Bill Barr-like abridged version of a serious investigation.
Thyroxine, a hormone used to treat thyroid disorders, gained notoriety during a 15-month period in which seven horses trained by Bob Baffert died of sudden equine death.
One of Thyroxine’s side effects is that it increases metabolic rates, the surmise being the inside of the animal is going “faster” than the outside, a possible recipe for undue stress. As we all know, stress can kill.
“Environmental contamination” was the official explanation given at that time as research on the effects of Thyroxin did not yield significant findings. Scientists could not verify that pre- and post-mortem would yield comparative results.
The lack of a comprehensive finding and the removal of CHRB medical director Dr. Jeff Blea, an “emergency suspension” of Blea’s license, is not a good look for California racing or the sport.
Meanwhile, the adjudication of Medina Spirit’s Derby positive finding has been ongoing nine months. We’ve heard the one about justice and slowly grinding wheels, but the delay of the official 2021 Derby result is absurd.
Hell, it only took 22 minutes to take Maximum Security down in 2019, and that situation was far more complicated.
As for transparency, the Kentucky Racing Commission is seeking to change the rule that bars officials and stewards from commenting on process until the conclusion of an investigation.
But nine months to make the 2021 Derby officially official in an industry whose existence may or may not be hanging in the balance depending on that decision is unacceptable. Is this a case of making sure all legal ducks are lined up, or a case of justice denied?
Also at yesterday’s session, the commission voted to approve the request of a hearing officer for a delay on a 2018 case involving two drug positives currently on appeal by trainer Steve Asmussen. It’s horse racing, so why not?