U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) formally injected her office into the investigation into the death of Medina Spirit on Monday by sending a letter to Scott Chaney, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, calling for transparency and updates as things move forward.
In the letter, she urged Chaney to make sure the investigation is “thorough, transparent, and independent of any outside influences.” In addition, she asked that the CHRB “provide my staff with regular updates on the investigation and any actions necessary to prevent additional fatalities.”
Medina Spirit, winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, died on Dec. 6 after completing a five-furlong workout at Santa Anita. The fatality was initially categorized as a “sudden death,” which is often associated with cardiac events. As with every fatality, the horse will undergo a necropsy, an autopsy performed on animals, and the results made public.
“Medina Spirit is one of 71 racehorses who have died at California racing facilities thus far in 2021,” Feinstein wrote. “While this represents a reduction in deaths from previous years, it is apparent that more work is necessary to prevent these tragic fatalities.”
The death of Medina Spirit has received additional attention because the horse tested positive for a legal medication, just not legal on race day, after winning the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to set a hearing date or officially charge the colt’s trainer, Bob Baffert. It is possible that the horse could be disqualified, or the potential charge dismissed, as Baffert’s attorneys contend the race day prohibition of the drug, betamethasone, only applies to injections, not an ointment. They say the horse was being treated with an ointment for a rash on the colt’s hind quarter.
Feinstein, while recognizing the work the CHRB has done to reduce fatalities, told the regulatory body that “your oversight role in this investigation and beyond is critical to protecting these horses and strengthening the integrity of the sport.”
Chaney agreed with Feinstein’s sentiments.
“The CHRB appreciates the Senator’s communication and shares her goal of a fair and thorough investigation as well as a continued commitment to the protection of animal welfare,” Chaney said.
The senator foreshadowed this move last week in an interview with The Times, where she said, “Seeing any horse die on the race track is tragic, but the sudden death of a champion horse like Medina Spirit is particularly jarring.”
There is no timeframe to complete the necropsy, but it is expected to take at least two months, although the results of blood, urine and tissue samples will be available much sooner. The CHRB plans to use outside laboratories to add an additional set of eyes to the findings of the Maddy Lab at UC Davis.