Medina Spirit, the controversial winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, died on Monday, December 6, 2021 at Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, California, from an apparent heart attack. The three-year-old Thoroughbred had just completed a five-furlong workout. 

The dark bay colt’s Kentucky Derby victory with jockey John R. Velazquez gave trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh win in the run-for-the-roses, but that win has been in dispute because the results of a post-race drug test found betamethasone, which Baffert claims was not injected as an anti-inflammatory but administered topically for a skin condition. One of the best-known trainers world-wide, Baffert has been scrutinized by state horse racing regulators in recent years after some of the horses in his stables tested positive for banned substances. In June 2021, Baffert was suspended from racing at Churchill Downs in Kentucky for two years.  

Despite the controversy, Medina Spirit continued to run well, most recently finishing second in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on November 6. He placed third in the Preakness Stakes but was banned from the third leg of US Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. He won the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar in the summer, and the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita in the fall. 

“Medina Spirit was a great champion, a member of our family who was loved by all, and we are deeply mourning his loss,” said Baffert in a statement confirming the colt’s death. 

The horse’s remains will undergo a necropsy (postmortem) examination at the California Animal Health and Food Safety diagnostic laboratory to determine the cause of death. 

In a statement, the California Horse Racing Board provided this information: “The 3-year-old colt Medina Spirit, trained by Bob Baffert, was just completing a workout on the main track at Santa Anita this morning (Dec. 6) when he collapsed near the finish line. He died immediately. This is termed a sudden death. All horses that die within facilities regulated by the California Horse Racing Board undergo postmortem (necropsy) examination at a California Animal Health and Food Safety diagnostic laboratory under the auspices of the University of California, Davis. Cause of death cannot be determined until the necropsy and toxicology tests have been completed.”

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