Bob Baffert. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Baffert horses big part of sudden death spike

PHOTO BY ROB CARR/GETTY IMAGES Thoroughbred racehorse trainer Bob Baffert.
Thoroughbred racehorse trainer Bob Baffert.

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California racing saw a sharp increase last year in the number of fatalities due to cardiac failures. Eleven horses were reported as having died in this manner during fiscal year 2012 (July 1 through June 30) compared with six for the same period in 2011 and four in 2009, according to a California Horse Racing Board postmortem annual report.

Equally concerning is that a reported seven out of the 11—or 64%—of the horses that died from cardiac failure statewide had been stabled with leading Southern California trainer and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, according to several trainers and exercise riders who watched the horses drop during training hours.

Baffert did not respond to questions by e-mail or return phone calls. The identifications of the horses that died have not been released by the CHRB.

Cardiac failure in Thoroughbred racehorses is a relatively rare occurrence, according to trainers and racetrack veterinarians. A study published in 2010 in the Equine Veterinary Journal on sudden death in racing Thoroughbreds found it was responsible for 9% of fatalities in California. This same study showed 96 reported sudden deaths between Feb. 1990 and Aug. 2008 in California among Thoroughbreds while they were exercising, or an average of five per year. During the 18-year period, a total of five were reported in Pennsylvania; 23 in Victoria, Australia; 16 in Sydney; four in Hong Kong; and none in Japan.

“It’s disturbing and unnatural,” said one trainer based at Betfair Hollywood Park, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the number of sudden deaths he’s seen. One of his own horses nearly collided with one of Baffert’s horses that collapsed in front of it while galloping in the morning at Hollywood. “I’ve been in training for 25 years and not had one. I don’t know why it’s happening but it can’t continue. It is putting horses and riders at risk.”


14 thoughts on “Baffert horses big part of sudden death spike”

  1. “Lasix on occasion has been implicated as a “blood thinner” as it lowers the blood pressure in the capillaries, so technically not a blood thinner. ”
    I read that horses who bleed in their lungs and it goes through their noses are given Lasix but not on racing day because it’s illegal. Lasix does lower blood pressure and works like a diuretic. My cat has to be given the drug because of his heart condition and feline asthma. My vet takes Lasix for his blood pressure. It’s interesting that different species – horses, cats and humans- all benefit from the same drug.

    Otherwise, Baffert is always at the Derby and wonder if he’ll make it next month. Never knew he was so diabolical, but then aren’t all trainers? How will racing and other horse related sports ever be cleaned up when they’ll do anything to get the trophy?


  2. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these trainers got banned for life? They should be. No second chances. Chuck this rubbish out of horse racing, beginning with this (in my opinion) horse hating shyster. How many young horses has he destroyed. But they put him along with the others in their hall of fame. Disgusting disrespect for racehorses, jockeys, fans and bettors.


  3. It’s a shame that these deaths aren’t getting much media attention. No surprise tho, as Americans pay little attention to horse racing now and those that do are bettors, not horse-lovers. I hope that these deaths are thoroughly investigated and that action is taken if bad practices are responsible. Horses deserve so much better.


      1. Agree. It’s about time this guy was under the microscope. Snake oil as far as I am concerned, just like most of these so-called “high-end” trainers. Horses and their welfare, it seems ,have nothing to do with racing any more – Its all about the bottom line and whatever these people have to do to get them on the track is all that counts.


  4. Yes, as the article points out…..

    A state lab has conducted necropsies on the all horses but has not determined a reason for the rash of sudden deaths.

    “We have not been able to find the cause,” said Dr. Francisco Uzal, with the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System (CAHFS), during a Feb. 20 meeting of the CHRB Medication Committee. “We have done extensive toxicological studies. We have done, of course, all sorts of other things—pathology and histology. We don’t know what’s going on.”

    Also in reference to the anticoagulent….

    “The toxicologist was unclear of its significance it was so low, but both horses had internal hemorrhage problems so they took it seriously,”


  5. This article really piqued my interest. Common rat poisons, such as Warfarin or Coumadin for example, are none other than anticoagulants that thin the blood and are given to people at risk for blood clots. The key here is “blood thinning”. Sound familiar? Lasix/Salix also thins the blood yet works in a different manner (diuretic).


    Who knows, but it certainly is interesting and given last year’s “Frog Juice” (dermorphin) doping scandal nothing would surprise me anymore. It seems trainers try to stay one step ahead of the game when it comes to the search for the elusive performance enhancing drug that will go undetected with routine drug testing.

    The article also points out that there was evidence of hemorrhaging consistent with the side effects of any anticoagulant or blood thinner. Moreover some of the other side effects could conceivably explain the apparent cardiac arrest.

    1. Hypertension (high blood pressure), a known risk for cardiac failure
    2. Cerebral ischemia (insufficient blood flow to the brain) with potential side effects of stroke and cardiorespiratory arrest.
    3. Embolitic occulsions (a detached mass that can block arteries) which can lead to cardiac arrest.
    4. Hemopericardium and cardiac tamponade – basically fluid build-up in the pericardium space surrounding the heart muscle which in severe cases can lead to myocardial (heart muscle) rupture.

    And given the myriad medications administered to race horses there is also the question of dangerous drug reactions.

    Maybe I am simply too cynical, but just sayin’.


    1. I should clarify the Lasix is a blood thinner comment. Lasix on occasion has been implicated as a “blood thinner” as it lowers the blood pressure in the capillaries, so technically not a blood thinner. When used in combination with anticoagulants the blood thinning effect of these drugs will be heightened. Sorry for any confusion there. There are certainly not one and the same.


      1. Actually, the more I thought of it, there is an even more compelling reason for Baffert to have given a horse an anticoagulant. Duh, I should have thought of it before – EPO or Erythropoietin – it is used to build red blood cells for the purpose of increased oxygen exchange (performance enhancement) and in simple terms will “thicken” the blood – EPO doping, yet another sinister side of racing. Just ask Lance Armstrong how it works. Ugh.


  6. These horses may be at risk because of drugs that is given to them along with the horses genetics. Because of these deaths happening to one trainers horses, whatever is being given to them is effecting the heart. If they are born with a heart defect similar to what can happen to people that drop dead from the heart just stopping, like what has happened to some high school football players. This may be whats going on here. In other words the drugs are giving the horses heart attacks that they might not have if they hadn’t been loaded up on drugs to start with. The trainer or owner will never admit to giving the horses anything.


  7. So is anyone looking into this?? Or is this something else that will be swept under the rug?? So sad to read this these wonderful horses work so hard to make the greedy owners happy and if they don’t make the cut they are thrown away…to yes slaughter…. When I first moved to Kentucky and saw all the breeding stables I was in awe I could NOT believe what I was seeing I mean they are mansions literally so beautiful, but now all I can think of is ALL THOSE HORSES are in some way or another in jeopordy of slaughter !!! Makes me ill…… I am not saying everyone is like that corrupt but so so many are it’s all about the might dollar!?!?! I hope to god someone is going to investigate so many horse’s dropping died???? :(


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