Medina Spirit Dies on Track Following Workout

Compiled by Nancy Brannon

Multiple news sources reported that Kentucky Derby winner and second place finisher in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Medina Spirit died Monday morning December 6, 2021 after completing a five-furlong workout on the track at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA.

“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,” track officials said in a statement.

Blood, hair, and urine samples from the racehorse were taken immediately after Medina Spirit’s death and sent to the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB). A full necropsy will be performed by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to determine an exact cause of death, according to track officials.

Bloodhorse reported on Dec. 9 that University of Minnesota researchers will assist in investigating the horse’s death. “Samples of hair, blood, and heart tissue” were sent to the “College of Veterinary Medicine’s Equine Genetics and Genomics Laboratory, where scientists are studying cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death in racehorses…”

The Thoroughbred Daily News reported on Dec. 15, 2021 that Medina Spirit’s necropsy is currently underway. “A report on the sudden death of the GI Kentucky Derby winner is expected to be publicly released by mid-February,” according to Dr. Jeff Blea, CHRB equine medical director.

 “Near the end of his breeze this morning, he did not feel right and his rider tried to pull him up,” Jeff Blea told the New York Times. “He went down. Our vet on the scene got there immediately and he was already expired.” (Source: The Guardian)

“A trainer who was present at the track, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Medina Spirit appeared to slow near the wire, looking ‘a little wobbly’ until his rider guided him to the outside fence where he collapsed.

“Medina Spirit is the youngest first-place Derby finisher to die since 1984, when Swale died suddenly after a workout on that June 17, eight days after winning the Belmont Stakes. Barbaro, the 2006 Derby winner, died in January 2007, eight months after suffering an injury shortly after the start of the 2006 Preakness. Twenty-one winners of the Derby survive, with the oldest being 1994 winner Go for Gin, who turned 30 this year and stands at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.” (source: The Washington Post)

The 3-year-old colt was the first-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby in May 2021, but the win is still under investigation after Medina Spirit tested positive for the anti-inflammatory steroid betamethasone. The win is under review by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. (source: CBS Los Angeles)
Cherwa, John. 2021. “2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit dies after workout at Santa Anita.” Los Angeles Times. Dec. 6.
“Medina Spirit, horse at heart of Kentucky Derby controversy, dies while training.” The Guardian. Dec. 6, 2021.
Culpepper, Chuck. 2021. “Medina Spirit, who finished first in controversial 2021 Kentucky Derby, dies after workout.” The Washington Post. Dec. 6.
Le, Tien. 2021. “Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit collapsed and died after a workout in California.” NPR. Dec. 6.
CBSLA Staff. 2021. “Medina Spirit, Kentucky Derby Winner That Failed Drug Test, Dies During Workout at Santa Anita Park.” CBS Los Angeles. Dec. 6.
Bloodhorse staff. 2021. “U of MN Researchers Investigate Medina Spirit’s Death.” Bloodhorse. Dec. 9.
Thornton, T.D. 2021. “Medina Spirit’s Necropsy ‘Currently Underway.’” Thoroughbred Daily News. Dec. 15.

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