Equestrian experts call heart attack diagnosis premature

News of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit suddenly dying after a Monday morning workout shocked the horse world and led to cause of death speculation in addition to the horse’s remembrance messages , who was raised in Marion County.

Owner Amr Zedan and trainer Bob Baffert both said the 3-year-old died of a heart attack in Santa Anita, Calif., Although local veterinary experts warn against speculation until that an autopsy be completed to determine the exact cause of death.

Shortly after hearing the news on Monday, Gail Rice, who raised Medina Spirit on her farm in Citra, northern Marion County, said that Medina Spirit was a happy horse who had received the best care and love from Baffert and his crew.

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‘It happens’

“I have lost a lot of horses over the years. I’ve been in the business since 1981, and it happens, ”she said. “It happens on race tracks and on farms. There are other horses that get sick and die. It’s part of what we do, and it’s the same as people. People come and go, and they get sick and get hit by cars and run in front of trains. ”

Although it is devastating when this happens, Rice said they would celebrate the horse he was and remember him for “his big heart and his will to win.” She remembers three horses that she was personally related to who suddenly died as Medina Spirit over the years.

Gail Rice walks a yearling at Magic Oaks Farm in Citra on Tuesday afternoon.  Medina Spirit breed rice.

“We all have to die someday, and we wish it was later than soon for this horse, but it’s our business, and it’s our love, and these animals are our life,” she said. declared.

His statement rings true especially in Marion County, the horse capital of the world, which produces many thoroughbreds that compete in prominent races such as the Derby and other Triple Crown events.

In 2015, the horse industry contributed $ 2.6 billion to the local economy, and the Ocala / Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership even have a horse engagement initiative. Louisa Barton, the program director, said in a CEP Facebook post on Monday that Medina Spirit was “an incredible champion” and “will be missed so much by all who are connected.”

Francis Vanlangendonck of Summerfield Sales delivered Medina Spirit for Rice in 2019, when the horse sold for $ 1,000 at an Ocala Breeders auction.

“This stuff happens all the time in the horse business. People die of heart attacks, ”he said. “Stuff like that happens, and you can’t control it, and I can’t imagine (Baffert) doing anything that he’s not supposed to be doing.” They test everything that is possible.

Shortly after winning the Kentucky Derby on May 1, Medina Spirit tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone, resulting in a two-year suspension from Churchill Downs for Baffert and putting the victory in jeopardy. The investigation is ongoing and the decision whether or not to confirm victory has not yet been announced.

Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness participant Medina Spirit is bathed after a pre-Preakness Stakes practice at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore on May 12.  The horse died Monday in California after training.

The official cause of death remains to be determined

Although speculation has swirled over the cause of death given the previous controversy, those close to Medina Spirit are hopeful that he will not be remembered in this way. And University of Florida vets warn of assumptions before the official cause is determined.

Tello Velasquez rides a Gail Rice's yearling at Magic Oaks Farm at Citra on Tuesday.  Medina Spirit breed rice.

“Although cardiovascular events are at the top of our list of differential diagnoses of sudden death in horses, until a complete postmortem examination is completed, we will not know the cause of death of Medina Spirit,” Dr. Alison Morton, Medical Director. of Large Animal Hospital at UF College of Veterinary Medicine, wrote in an email.

She said sudden death from cardiovascular events “is not very common, but well known” in all types of horses.

Dr Meg Sleeper, a veterinary cardiologist in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at UF, also wrote that there are other possible causes of cardiovascular death, and even attributing the cause to the horse’s heart before autopsy is a guess.

“Many people will say that a dog, cat or horse died of a ‘heart attack’ when the death was sudden or unexpected. However, these species very rarely have a myocardial infarction (as people do), ”she wrote.

Gail Rice prepares to open a door for exercise runner Tello Velasquez on Tuesday at her Magic Oaks farm in Citra.

Morton also explained that the term is misleading because horses don’t have the type of heart attack people have.

“One of the most common cardiac events that can be responsible for sudden death in horses is cardiac arrhythmia, where the heart suddenly develops an abnormal and dysfunctional rhythm and eventually stops,” she said. “It’s very different from what we think of as a heart attack in humans, which is more often caused by a myocardial infarction, when the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle become blocked. ”

Morton also referred to studies identifying other causes of sudden death, including heart failure, apparent lung failure, pulmonary hemorrhage, hemorrhage associated with pelvic fractures or idiopathic rupture of blood vessels and injury. of the spinal cord.

Some older studies report sudden death rates of 9% to 12% of thoroughbred racehorse deaths, and they assume the majority of the rest are catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries, including fractures.

Morton said sudden death from cardiac causes “occurs unpredictably in younger and older horses,” but stressed the importance of waiting for the official cause to be determined. Nonetheless, she encourages horse owners and trainers to take routine veterinary performance reviews.

A fairy tale turned nightmare

Christy Whitman, who bought Medina Spirit in 2019 and sold it to Zedan at OBS in 2020, has had two personal cases of horses collapsing on the track without warning.

She says it’s not common – but not unknown either – and wonders if the cause in this case was an aortic rupture.

Horse trainer Christy Whitman of the New Episode Training Center bought Medina Spirit for $ 1,000, broke and trained it, then sold it for $ 35,000 in 2020. Whitman, shown on the farm track on Tuesday afternoon, said:

“Horses are living things, which breathe like humans, and apparently healthy people are constantly dying of heart attacks, strokes and things like that,” she said. “There isn’t necessarily any cause or reason or anyone’s fault.”

Whitman hopes to dispel rumors that Baffert or anyone close to the horse did anything to cause death.

“Baffert doesn’t want that to happen. It’s not good for him. It is not good for our industry. It’s not good for any of the horses or anyone involved, ”she said. “It was the last thing anyone associated with this horse wanted to happen.”

Whitman says Medina Spirit has brought many people together, from his breeder and owner to the people who looked after him and cleaned his stall.

“All of these people are linked by this special feeling that they were part of something big, and that’s what makes horse racing so special,” she said. “I just hate that it turns into this terrible thing that it isn’t.”

Horse trainer Christy Whitman of the New Episode Training Center walks a filly by Connect out of Starlet Storm on Tuesday.

For Whitman, what was meant to be a unique fairy tale turns into a nightmare instead.

“I just hope it doesn’t negatively affect this horse’s legacy because he was a very special horse,” she said. “He never seemed to get the respect he deserved, and I hope it doesn’t tarnish who he was and everything he accomplished.”

Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at [email protected]

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