The results of a necropsy and toxicology report examining the sudden death of Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) first-place finisher Medina Spirit are “imminent,” expected in about a week, according to Scott Chaney, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board.
A necropsy is an autopsy conducted upon an animal. Necropsies are standard procedures on equines that die at CHRB-regulated facilities, with the University of Davis School of Veterinary Medicine undertaking those studies.
Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina Spirit, trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, collapsed and died after a Dec. 6 workout at Santa Anita Park. His sudden death gained national news attention, in part due to the controversy related to the May 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Post-race test results taken from Medina Spirit following the Derby showed the presence of the corticosteroid betamethasone, a finding that places him at risk of disqualification after a long-awaited hearing with Kentucky stewards Feb. 7. Baffert claims Medina Spirit tested positive due to treatment for a skin condition on the colt’s hindquarters with the anti-fungal ointment Otomax.
Medina Spirit passed tests for prohibited drugs during the remainder of his 3-year-old season last year, including in his final race, a runner-up finish in the Nov. 6 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar.
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Though Chaney has been informed that the necropsy is nearing completion, he said he is unaware of the results.
“There is this narrative that we somehow have some say in what it says, but it is a scientific finding,” he said.
He indicated the CHRB hopes to release the results within a day of receipt from UC Davis.
“As soon as we receive it, we want to receive permission from the owner to release it unredacted,” he said. “It’s just more clear and transparent, that sort of thing. As soon as we get that, we’ll put it straight out.”
Chaney said UC Davis has requested the input of outside laboratories in the necropsy and toxicology studies, mentioning the laboratory at Cornell University as one, and other laboratory findings will be included in the overall report.
An analysis from the University of Minnesota into Medina Spirit’s death is part of a larger, long-term cardiac project that will not be a part of the necropsy results, Chaney indicated.
At the time of Medina Spirit’s death, CHRB equine medical director Dr. Jeff Blea said the cause of sudden death incidents sometimes prove elusive, with about half remaining a mystery even after further study.
Blea initially was to oversee the necropsy of Medina Spirit. However, Dr. John Pascoe, executive associate dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, now heads the project.
Last month, Blea was placed on leave after an administrative law judge suspended his veterinary license following an anonymous complaint to the California Veterinary Medical Board. CHRB chairman Dr. Greg Ferraro called the actions against Blea politically motivated. Blea is now awaiting a full evidentiary hearing.