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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


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?

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34 Responses

  1. Begs the question of so many involved…Hall of Fame or Hall of Shame? Men of Character, Transparency and Accountability? 30/70?

  2. Go ahead,convince new horse bettors to get into this ‘sport ‘ ! It reminds me of that 15 yr old Russian young girl who ‘s been found to have taken THREE illegal drugs and still has not been punished while a young Usa young woman came in second,,awaiting for the Gold medal to rightly belong to her.,,And that is the reason why the USSR,Russia ,came into the Olympics as ROC… ‘roots of cheating’? Just like the former East Germany athletes of yrs past,and Russia itself,with some ‘It Is What It Is’…grin and Bear it . Oscar Barrera Jr would be proud of what Keeps going on,,,”How is Your Horse Running Today “? Ask the Vet who promises Omerta`,without biting the hands,and wallets,that feed him. More skeptical than ever..,JGR ..

    1. First, JG, way off topic early.

      There is an Oscar Barrera Jr., who is not the one you referenced, that would be his father, Oscar Sosa Barrera.

      Yes, JG, will all have issues with the way things are handled and you have a right to be skeptical. However, thought Vet Omerta reference needlessly cynical. Just one man’s opinion…

  3. The PP analogy is a really good way of looking at this; we don’t know with certainty that Kelly Kip will get the early lead in a match race against Strike The Gold, but the endless list of 1s in his PP and the endless number of 9s in Gold’s PP after the opening quarter makes us lean a certain way.

    1. Which, Doc, I suppose is the handicapping equivalent of walking and talking like a duck, ergo …

  4. And RIP Affirmed Success, a horse that any NYer certainly has a soft spot for. What a career; won the Carter as an 8yo. Always brought his A game.

    The most amazing stat is that he ran 38 triple digit Beyers in 42 lifetime starts.

    1. As they say on the backside Doc, he’s a very cool horse and Richard Schosberg, a man who walks his talk when it comes to equine aftercare, managed him brilliantly. May being naive here, but the game seemed less cynical back then–not that long ago.

  5. This was a powerful essay that included a needless “hit” with the Bill Barr reference. Will the Kentucky Racing Commission render a decision on the 2021 Kentucky Derby order of finish before the 2022 race is run ??? Simply incredible to watch “inaction” in action.

  6. Richard, I understand your reference to “needless hit”, but here’s the problem with that.

    When disrespect for the rule of law is shown at the highest levels or government, that becomes a “needless signal” to corporations to do whatever the hell they want, knowing there will be no accountability.

    Besides, it was an appropriate reference given the issue at hand.

    Then you got off a good line yourself. “watching inaction in action.” Well done…

    1. Thanks, John. It would be nice to see some occasional criticism of the Democratic Party in your commentary. Heaven knows that there’s enough craziness on both sides that you may wish to balance out the low-lights.

      1. Richard, I do that on Twitter. Hey, if it was good enough for TFG, right?

        I have not been kind to POTUS who doesn’t get any credit for what he does, but our priorities are not the same and he could do more. Of course, the other sides is not interested in governing at all, so there’s that…

        Someone took a 1-10 job-rating Poll on Mr Biden and I gave him a generous 8 in my view. So, yes, the President can do more. Sen. Schumer is too passive and in that context ineffectual.

        And while I know it’s a non-partisan position, and the DOJ wants only the slam dunk, get met me started on Merritt Garland. Yeah, he said he’ll prosecute “to the highest levels” if necessary, but a little editorial in favor of democracy would have been appriciated.

        So, how’s that, fair enough?

        1. Surprisingly fair to see some of these comments. I guess that I’ve been missing out by not following you on Twitter. But we are worlds apart in our political philosophies so I’ll leave it there for now. We return the HRI audience to the world of thoroughbred racing – which is why many of us drop in here so often.

          1. Perhaps, before we get back to our regularly scheduled programming–as you appear to be a reasonable man, someday maybe we’ll engage on issues somewhere, someplace.

            But I have one qualifier, a question that requires nothing beyond a simple yes or no:

            Do you recognize Joe Biden as the duly elected 46th President of the United States?

  7. The “abridged version of an investigation” is fair in that all of the delayed responsivness to date (i.e.; “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.) equates to similiar questionable interpertation of the Jockey Clubs inaction impacting a diminished trust within the rank and file of racing, We the people? What about us?
    Why was Justify’s failed medication issue never brought into focus before his Derby Win for example. I suspect that yet another “abridged version of an investigation” was assigned team Baffert at that instance as well. In a world of political discourse with all things being equal, even my three year old grandson would ask the question , “Men of Transparency, Accountability, and Trust? “C’mon Man.”

  8. Excellent article John. Thank you. I think we will reach a conclusion on Derby Day 2022. The officials can do a catch up and declare 2 Kentucky Derby winners on the same day. Should be good TV. Of course if they declare Medina Spirit the winner,I don’t know who can accept for him. The beat goes on. Nothing changes.

  9. Yes, John, President Biden is the “duly elected 46th President of the United States.” I would have answered your message above but the Reply tab was missing. Maybe one day we’ll get to have that political conversation at Saratoga Race Course.

    1. Count me in. What better venue could we find than the Old Spa ??? Maybe the first drink is from the Big Red Spring.

    1. The Big Red Spring is an acquired taste. It took me a few years to get used to it but it’s a must visit on any day at that The Spa. The positive health benefits outweigh the harsh taste, at least, in this handicappers opinion.

  10. All of them cheaters, over 85% think that winning is in a drug they can’t test for, hell you have a Vet making the drugs and not the only one. As a cardiac nurse I will go on record as saying that Medina Spirit’s death is from drug use, three year old horses just don’t drop dead, there is a reason but somehow it is never found in horses. What we do have is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that BB uses drugs by his own admission and Mike Smith lied to a Federal judge in New York, that’s what we do have. Kat

    1. Hey Kathleen, I’m not shy about speculating on how horse races will turn out but not the justice system since there are two kinds; one for the rank and file and one for the 1% types. All any of us can do is wait and see how this all turns out, from the officially official 2021 Derby result to the cause of death for the horse that finished first. As stated in the piece, the industry’s past performances, vis a vis the legal system, is not encouraging. Thanks for the take…

    2. My wife,a former ICU,TCU nurse and animal shelter volunteer for many yrs agrees with you about the * medical abuse* of horses,and greyhounds. I have said,Many Times,why are jockeys Not saying anything about what they may have felt,witnessed when riding horses from several of these cheating owners and trainers ? Don’t have to be a whistleblower but once in a while *If you see,witness something atrocious,illegal,Say Something *!! Why remain a silent accomplice ? Afraid of being blackballed by all trainers/owners ? How do they sleep at night,Conscienceless ? Afraid to slap the hand that feeds you (crap)? Cannot be anonymous ? Will you be considered a traitor among jockeys,walkers ? Never heard of a jockey saying Anything on the subject ,even after retiring from the profession,or am I wrong..?

      1. JG, we don’t don’t know if there are whistle blowers who remain anonymous. I explain to readers all the time that it’s necessary for me to go off the record with industry stakeholders or I’d never know what’s going on behind the scenes.

        I’m afraid you’re right. If jockeys see something they will say nothing for risk of losing their business–the successful ones are millionaires, too, and as we know, there is nothing approximating true transparency in this industry.

        There is too much money involved from the top down, then there’s politics, then there’s what can be proven in court. We can only try to continue doing our best.

  11. JGR you are correct and the obvious reason that Mike Smith lied about BB is money, it really is the old boys club, one lies and ten will swear to it. If the jockeys talk they will not get the good drugged horses. No one who has not lived on a racetrack can possibly know what is going on and your wife knows about all the abuse. These people don’t love horses they love money a lot more, they have all sold their souls. Kat

    1. “All” is too strong a word, Kat. Sadly, those who do not take an edge are trainers with single-digit win percentages.

      Beyond that, there are thousands or backstretch and racetrack personnel who depend on racing for the food on their table.

      Federal oversight via USADA is the only answer. If the horsemen fight it off and organizations such as The Jockey Club cave, as they did last week, vis a vis the cap on number of services studs can perform each year, that would signal the end.

    2. Ms,Pierce Price,in closing,reading your reply I was intimately reminded of how many hush hush * incidents* that my Angela secretly tell me about that happened in some surgeries,yep,similar i as in that wonderful Paul Newman flick,*The Verdict*. What do you mean that you made a copy of the report !!?! . Seen it so many times and still moves me. Bless you and all others still on the line who have been taken for granted! 🌹

  12. That is one of the best movies ever and for this business the Truth will win out and we are getting to hundreds of years of horse abuse and NY is trying their best to show who these people really are, horse killers who should not have a license. I want all Trainers to take an IQ test and then we will see everything. Good Luck to you Kat

  13. Two reasons why I re entered your site today as I was watching Gulfstream-s 7 th race. A) Trainer Larry Rivelli is winning some 40 plus % races after a claim ? 2) As one of many races were switched from turf to *Synthetic*, I heard one of the mouthpieces say that such and such horse * Have synthetic,tafeta breeding in them* since the Sire or Dam had a good record on the GG track. Will this specific info be in the DRF,and others,PP lines/corners,next to Turf,Wet track input ,or is it too early,and confusing , yet ???? Ps: What’s up with *Non winners of such and such races In The Last SIX Months * ? Give me a break !! Belmont,S O S !

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