Medina Spirit, whose victory in the Kentucky Derby had been called into question by a failed post-race drug test, died on Monday after a timed workout.
The colt suffered an apparent heart attack after working five furlongs at the Santa Anita Park racetrack in Southern California, said Dr. Jeff Blea, the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board.
“Near the end of his breeze this morning, he did not feel right and his rider tried to pull him up,” Blea said. “He went down. Our vet on the scene got there immediately and he was already expired.”
The colt’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said he was devastated by the death.
“Medina Spirit was a great champion, a member of our family who was loved by all, and we are deeply mourning his loss,” Baffert said in a statement released by his lawyer, W. Craig Robertson III. “I will always cherish the proud and personal memories of Medina Spirit and his tremendous spirit.”
Medina Spirit’s owner, Amr Zedan of Saudi Arabia, was not immediately available for comment. Zedan’s attorney, Clark Brewster, said he had spoken with both his client and Baffert Monday morning. Both said Medina Spirit was training well after an impressive second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November and was preparing for another race in the coming weeks, Brewster said.
“They are wracked with grief. It’s truly tragic,” Brewster said. “He was training great and moving easily and then Bob said when he finished up he just collapsed.”
At 12-to-1 odds, Medina Spirit was a surprising winner of the Derby, America’s most famous race. The colt was sold as a yearling for only $1,000 and was a bargain for Zedan, who paid just $35,000 for him. Medina Spirit’s victory was the seventh for Baffert trained horses in the Derby, a record.
A week after winning the Derby, however, Baffert announced that a post-race test found the drug betamethasone, a corticosteroid injected into joints to reduce pain and swelling, in Medina Spirit. At the time, Baffert strongly denied that he or anyone else on his team had administered the drug to Medina Spirit.
He gave a series of television and radio interviews in the following days offering various theories about how the colt had tested positive. He criticized Churchill Downs’s suspension of him as “harsh” and cited “cancel culture” for the controversy.
Baffert, however, soon reversed himself. He said that Medina Spirit had a rash on his hind end, and that an ointment used daily to treat the dermatitis contained the substance.