Deadly to Horses: The Baffert Effect – Part 1

California thoroughbred racehorse trainer and slippery fish Bob Baffert. Photo Jae C. Hong/AP.
PHOTO CREDIT: JAE C HONG/AP
California thoroughbred racehorse trainer and slippery fish Bob Baffert.

BY JANE ALLIN

An article written by Bill Dwyre last month in the Los Angeles Times absurdly glorifies Thoroughbred horse racing’s poster boy; “Horse racing has problems, but trainer Bob Baffert isn’t one of them”.

SUDDEN DEATHS

Bob Baffert is the Hall of Fame trainer with the largest racing stable in California, and more recently under the microscope for the mysterious “sudden deaths” due to cardiovascular/pulmonary failures of seven race horses over the course of several months (November 4, 2011 through March 14, 2013).

See The Blood-Horse at http://goo.gl/j1wmqZ.

What is particularly disturbing about these deaths is that by all accounts sudden death failures are a relatively rare occurrence, according to trainers and track 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.”

See http://goo.gl/j1wmqZ.

Equally unsettling is the fact that of the 36 horses succumbing to sudden death in the state of California during the period July 1, 2011 through March 31, 2013 seven were stabled with Baffert — 19.4%. Another article “Putting California sudden death numbers in perspective” taken from The Paulick Report lends insight to the disconcerting nature of the situation.

“Looked at another way, one trainer with 2.5% of the horses and 1.5% of the total starts has had 19.4% of the sudden deaths over a 21-month period.”

Table © Paulick Report. See the Paulick Report at http://goo.gl/Qnxfx1.

 

Trainer Drug Violations Table copyright New York Times.
Table © New York Times.

I call their bluff.

This is by no means “normal” nor is it a one-off due to ‘bad luck” particularly given Baffert’s history of rampant drug use – legal or otherwise – that has followed him from his Quarter Horse days. According to a New York Times article, “Breeders Cup – Trainers Aren’t Helping as Drugs Damage Sport”, Baffert stands third in the frequency of drug violations for horses of the top 20 trainers by earnings in the United States averaging one drug violation for every 545 starts.

And don’t forget the morphine incident at Hollywood Park way back in 2000 — listed as a Class 1 drug by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, Inc. (ARCI) and a proven performance enhancer. On May 3, 2000 the horse “Nautical Look” tested positive for morphine which was later confirmed by the Texas Veterinary Medical Laboratory. See ESPN at http://goo.gl/uiAwXH.

If administering morphine to enhance a horse’s performance isn’t bad enough, Baffert had the audacity to coerce a groom in his employ to lie to investigators. Baffert testified that the positive finding was a result of “unintentional contamination” from a food source containing poppy seeds (e.g. baked goods).

While it is true that poppy seeds can generate false positive drug tests, Baffert went a step further. When notified of the positive result he repeatedly contacted his groom and encouraged him to admit to eating bakery products while in close proximity to “Nautical Look”. Unfortunately for Baffert the groom told the truth and testified he had not consumed any food while handling the horse. See http://goo.gl/uiAwXH.

Baffert-trained Secret Compass (in blue) broke down and was euthanized in the 2013 Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Race (for 2 YOs). Photo Credit: Mark J Terrill/AP.
Baffert-trained Secret Compass (in blue) broke down and was euthanized in the 2013 Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Race (for 2 YOs). Photo Credit: Mark J Terrill/AP.

Despite this being a serious infraction, given that morphine is illegal, one simply cannot disregard the epidemic overuse of legal therapeutic medications that Baffert and other trainers use without discretion because they can.

This is the underpinning of what is wrong with North American racing. And it follows that if top-tier trainers such as Baffert are participating in this level of “legal” drugging, the competitive rational for trainers at all levels is to run with the herd.

Moreover there is no lack of evidence for criticizing Baffert’s abusive drug practices.

It is perfectly clear from the number of horses Baffert has had to sideline or retire prematurely, not to mention euthanize over the past couple of years and longer — Bodemeister, Paynter, Fed Biz, Princess Arabella, Flashback, Secret Circle and sadly Secret Compass who at the age of 2 collapsed during the 2013 $2 million Juvenile Fillies and was euthanized after sustaining a lateral condylar fracture — to name a few.

Yet these are the words of Bill Dwyre:

Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times. Photo Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images NA.
Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times. Photo Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images NA.

“Racing needs Baffert because the public knows him. He sells tickets, gets the sport on the evening news and on the front page. He’s got white hair, is quick with a good quote and has great success. Our shallow media mostly chases celebrity, and Baffert is one.

If Baffert is guilty of purposely doing something to harm animals, he needs to be ousted from the sport. But the only sanctioning body that can say that, the CHRB, already has said he is not. So it is time to move on.

Racing needs Baffert.

It needs the white hair, one-liners, loyal owners and sizable fan base. It needs him in the Kentucky Derby every couple of years. It needs him standing next to one of his owners, Joe Torre, when the national TV cameras come on.

The public has neither the time nor inclination to look much deeper than that, and racing badly needs that public.”

See Los Angeles Times at http://goo.gl/g68kyS.

Incredible.

This is precisely what is destroying the “Sport of Kings” here in North America. Baffert and the rest of these drug pushers is exactly what North American racing should rid itself of.

In any case, as expected, Baffert was cleared in the sudden deaths of the seven horses by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB). An extensive investigation concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing yet the CHRB could find no specific reason for the abnormal number of deaths in one stable – inconclusive at best.

“The conclusion on a scientific basis would be that there is something different about Baffert, about the Hollywood Park main track and the barn, but we couldn’t find anything,” said Arthur. “It doesn’t change the fact we don’t have an answer. What it does say is, ‘There’s something wrong here.’”

See Ray’s Paddock, Paulick Report at http://goo.gl/TRW409

Just remember — we need Bob Baffert according to Dwyre.

FINAL REPORT FINDING: INCONCLUSIVE?

Below are some revealing excerpts taken from the official report on the investigation and review of the seven sudden deaths on the Hollywood Park main track of horses trained by Bob Baffert and stabled in Barn 61. See CHRB Report (pdf) at http://goo.gl/SlmxAF.

“Using all sudden deaths for Baffert (8 deaths, 2512 starts) there is an incidence of 3.18 deaths per 1,000 race starts (95% CI 1.37- 6.28). For comparison, all sudden deaths for non-Baffert trained horses (70 deaths, 199,637starts) have an incidence of 0.35 deaths/1,000 race starts (95% CI 0.27-0.44). Baffert-trained horses have a 9.08 (95% CI 4.37, 18.88; p<0.001) times greater incidence of sudden death during racing or training than horses not trained by Baffert. Examining the 7 sudden deaths over 24 months of FY 11-12 & FY 12-13, the results are even more dramatic.”

“Looking only at racing sudden deaths for Baffert (2 deaths, 2512 starts) there is an incidence of 0.80 deaths/1,000 race starts (95% CI 0.10-2.88). Racing sudden deaths for non-Baffert horses (21 deaths, 199,637 starts) has an incidence of 0.11 deaths/1,000 race starts (95% CI 0.07-0.16). Baffert trained horses that experienced sudden death during a race have a 7.57 (95% CI 1.77-32.28; p=0.006) times greater incidence of sudden death than horses not trained by Baffert.”

Beyond belief – yet apparently there isn’t anything atypical happening in Baffert’s barn — just a poor unlucky sod.

Teflon Bob.

White-haired rat. Google image.
White-haired rat. Google image.

Necropsy reports revealed that the main cause of death was cardiac failure with four of the seven horses succumbing to this fate.

Of the remaining three, two deaths were linked to rodenticide toxicosis (rat poisoning), one presumptive in nature, and the other definitive.

In one case a 2YO colt affected by EPM (Equine Protozoal Myelitis) caused by the parasite Sarcocystis, typically not associated with sudden death, was also found to exhibit severe hemorrhage of mesenertic vessels, a common symptom of rat poisoning. Regrettably there was no liver tissue available from this horse to test for the presence of rodenticide.

The other horse, a 3YO gelding suffered massive thoracic and abdominal hemorrhage of unknown etiology but presumed to be rodenticide toxicosis – in this case a rodenticide was detected in the liver tissue. The seventh and final horse in the series of sudden death incidents was a 5YO mare reputed to have died due to severe pulmonary hemorrhage and edema, otherwise known as EIPH – Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage. See http://goo.gl/SlmxAF.

Why was a horse afflicted with chronic and severe EIPH even racing? Other jurisdictions around the globe simply do not condone this. This is nothing short of negligence.

Despite the sudden and grave nature of these deaths, nothing out of the ordinary was found in the urine samples. Some urine samples showed no presence of foreign substances while typical equine medications were detected in others; phenylbutazone, furosemide (Lasix), flunixin, diclofenac, nandrolone (found naturally in unaltered ales) and clenbuterol in the urine of a horse in training therefore permissible under current medication rules.

The most important finding of the toxicology testing was the identification of the rodenticide diphacinone in the liver tissue of the 3YO gelding who died of massive internal hemorrhage in both his thorax and abdomen without evidence of a major vessel failure.

Diphacinone pellets. University of California image.
Diphacinone pellets. University of California image.

Diphacinone is an anticoagulant rodenticide and so reduces the body’s ability to form clots in the blood. What is interesting is that the only rodenticide Hollywood Park uses is bromodiolone in sealed traps leaving questions as to where the diphacinone came from. See http://goo.gl/SlmxAF.

There is more than obvious reason to question this, yet this too was written off as insignificant and without suspicion. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortuitously for Baffert, the livers of only two of the other horses were available for screening both of which tested negative for the rat poison, leaving 4 others with unknown status, one of which clearly died from symptoms consistent with rodenticide.

There was, as expected, myriad routine prescription medications and supplements dispensed by veterinarians in the Baffert barn (e.g. Clenbuterol, Adequan, Methocarbamol, Lasix, Phenylbutazone, Adjunct Bleeder medications, an assortment of vitamins etc.) however the single most bewildering medication that stands out is Baffert’s persistent use of Thyro-L (levothyroxine), a medication to treat hypothyroidism, in all of his horses. Repeat, all of his horses.

The standard cornucopia of medications deemed necessary in this drug-laden sport.

Part 2 tomorrow.

© Int’l Fund for Horses

30 thoughts on “Deadly to Horses: The Baffert Effect – Part 1”

  1. You all have some valid points but, from my point of view and i am entiteled to one because i have spent more than a half a century working on the backside.

    I have spent my last 43 years shoeing horses at big time tracks for some of the best and very important trainers with whom I have been hands on and part of the family so to speak. I have also worked hands on with many vets.

    I have seen much as I evolved around the track but for those of you that think everyone is involved in these scams, you are all wrong. There are many great horsemen around the track and many very good and honest trainers.

    GREED is what triggers this scam b.s, more, more, more and finally, use anything to make horses run better and “feed the greed.”
    Horse racing everywhere is getting a bad rap because of these few GREED MONGERS.

    Racing horses clean and legal is a true sport and not even one bit unfair to the horse. Some of the best horess I have been around, loved to race and loved to win. Horses have a way if you watch their ways and listen, of talking to you and showing off good or bad moods.

    It is a shame these crooks and their methods are going on and I hope the guilty are brought to justice and things can get back to the way they were, once, years back.

    And for those of you mentioning electrical devices? Those things are things of the past and seldom happen. At most tracks races can be monitored from satellites and other sophisticated means. Most jocks would never chance anything like that.

    We have to eliminate the GREED mongers and let the younger generation and others with a bad taste for racing in their mouths get interested in racing horses legit and save a wonderful sport that is getting such a bad rap.

    Like

    1. Very truthful and well said Wallace. You will find most of the clean racing people knocking their heads against the use of “legal” medicines being used to hype the natural abilities of the horse which puts the horse at danger to injury or death. The clean racing are also very vulnerable to injury because of the open way horses are kept, so they are quiet and mostly only speak to an article already in print. We, who have no way to be harmed are the ones that must keep information out in public. That said we must be SURE to provide the truth, the sources and tell what is the physical proof and/or the logic. Any exaggerations, rumors or lies will set back the effort.

      Like

    2. The point is HONEST trainers and talented horses don’t have a fair shot at it because of cheaters. Further, racing commissions seem to repeatedly deny honest horse people their day by allowing this crap to go on. The biggest problem is that the entire industry is policing itself. The industry desperately needs federal oversight (I realize it won’t solve everything) to oversee drug testing AND results. This can be accomplished via the HORSE EACING ACT now before congress. There will be OUTSIDE people with no vested interest ( like owning horses and racetracks) collecting, implementing, and HANDLING the RESULTS of drug tests. The US Olympic Doping Agency is far more sophisticated than any lab currently being authorized by INSIDE horse racing people. They will make a HUGE difference, and I bet that top trainers NOW will not win the majority of stake races. The implementation of the Horse Racing Act will be the best thing for honest owners/trainers/horses to ever happen in the 21st century. As for electrical devices?? I disagree with you as I know it is going on. In order to prove either of us wrong I support a SCANNER located at the scales so that every saddle AND whip must go through the scanner. It takes seconds. It is a practical and inexpensive way to eradicate electrical devices in racing. I would like to see Mike Smith at the front of the line leading the way. We live in high-tech society, but the racing industry seems to deliberately avoid bringing in the very things that could greatly reduce all this cheating. Why? It seems racetrack owners leaves open windows of opportunity for cheaters pointing to possible complacency or abetting cheaters. The only way to cleanup the sport is to bring outside people in and technical devices such as a SCANNER. They have been fighting a scanner for years – WHY? Again the cheating and doping is systemic and complacent.

      Like

  2. the logic that the chrb has not punished baffert so we need to move on makes me think bill dwyre is convinced of O.J.’s innocence

    Like

  3. 9 out of 10 times, if one trainer is doing it, they all are. There is a lot of “dirty” that goes on behind barn doors in the Thoroughbred industry.

    Like

  4. Wow Gina….what you say is unbelievable!!!! All of what you are saying needs to be EXPOSED in the papers/media etc. as well right around the time a BIG race is soon to run. Maybe this law that is stalled will then be moved into ‘Law’. It really is despicable…’ Sport of Kings ” my ass it’s almost as bad as dog fighting! Horses all over on all tracks loosing their lives daily…while the likes of Baffert walk smug on the track before a race talking to reporters,? Pathetic

    Like

    1. There are those of us that are making sure truths and information are shared with many via the social networks. Our goal is support the “clean” racing connections, truthful media and true racing fans so that all can compete on a level basis and protect the care and health of the horses.

      We do not want to shut down racing. Indeed we wish for it to succeed and become a sport to be enjoyed without guilt.

      No, I do not need any one telling me how/what horses feel. That,I know I can express with as much knowledge as many.

      Like

  5. It IS unfair to condemn an entire body for these actions. Like the Tennessee Walker competition, there must be some purists who believe in the sport AND respect and care for the animals involved. But I’m afraid those segments have become the exceptions rather than the rules.

    Like

    1. Absolutely. However, the reasons why honest racehorse trainers are exceptions is due to the ongoing systemic corruption that is prevalent in horse racing. I think the main reason why is that the industry has no federal oversight. Not saying that this would suddenly cure all the problems, but the Horse Racing Act now before congress will be the most effective way to reduce alleged corruption in the drug testing barn, and with racing officials who MAY BE involved with manipulating results. We must never forget the racehorse who sacrifices most of their life to fill races and who bears the brunt of the corruption. Not all racehorses “love” their job as you claim. Many die on the racetrack and many die in the slaughterhouse. I have concluded (after many years in the business) that horse racing is an antiquated sport sugar-coated with glitz and glamour where extensive cover-ups are all too common.

      Like

      1. I believe that all States that have racing also have supervising commissions with mission statements and rules. It is time to pressure the appointees to these commissions/committees and their bureaucrats that staff them, to do their duty and enforce their own laws. Citizens should pressure for proper appointments to these groups and require up to date rules & regulations be enacted. Most all of the legal groups are antiquated plus they are taking poor legal means to avoid doing the job that they can do.

        As to horses, too many trainers are corrupt or almost as bad ignorant of the knowledge that has been learned about equine behavior. More than one “horse whisperer” has fooled the public. This too can be bettered with change in obtaining licenses.

        Breeding also needs to come into the 21st Cen. with the information learned through DNA and the opening up of the eyes of those that think the mare is only an incubator. The lines passed by the mare have not been considered seriously because it has been too difficult for many to follow.

        Also, there has been little information easily available as to what traits “blend” from both sides in the foal. Not many learned about Gregor Mendel, his ideas of genetics and in the meantime we’ve learned that he only scratched the surface.

        Like

    2. Totally agree Lisa. Unfortunately its all the bad “apples” that destroy it for the rest. I truly believe there a good people in the industry. Makes me sad that it has to be that way.

      And yes Gina, absolutely no form of centralized oversight to prevent it.

      Like

  6. As always, Jane Allin, an excellent report, insofar as garbage like this needs to see the light of day.

    But these reports, so vitally informative, also leave me feeling murderous, and in desperate need of a scalding hot shower that I must share this planet with greasy, evil creatures like Baffert and Dwyre or anyone associated with ‘racing’.

    Like

    1. Lisa , Please dont condemn Horse Racing , Yes there are Huge Problems, but we are speaking of a 20% Problem , which is highly Fixable,, Biggest point is Where would thousands of Horses go?????? I have , researched this fact most all Owners , trainers (yes Trainers ), grooms love their Horses,they are cared for and fed the best fed and yes they are caressed and talked to with Love and attention, it is the concentrated few who ruin it, they can be dealt with!!!!!!!!! I have been around the tracks and Barns and i assure you this is true……………. Horse racing is a proud and wonderful sport ,(football should have such dedicated people involved, the Horses love the competition, they are exercised regularly, some of the horses are so into it they think they have won every race they are in and want to head straight for the Winners Circle, the Horses are very proud of themselves and show it readily……

      Like

      1. Arlene ~ You are so spot on with all you said! Thank you and keep up in the fight. We also need to repeatedly tell all off the tracks that there ARE many that believe and race clean and they LOVE their horses. They CAN NOT speak out because the way horses are cared for leaves it very easy to do harm to the horses of those that are honest. The most they can do is to agree with published articles so we need to back those that publish the TRUTH!

        Like

  7. Excellent reporting Jane.

    I have worked in the capacity of owner/trainer/exercise rider/groom and Associate Steward for the CHRB.

    The abuse of drugs in racehorses are concentrated in the top trainers. If you are an honest trainer in the business, following the rules & regulations – you don’t have a chance of your career advancing. You might as well hang up your tack with your trainer license attached to it. It’s important to approach this drug issue as an abusive systemic problem that starts with a trainer who makes it clear (usually) to an owner that they are willing to cheat and do whatever it takes to get them into the winners circle.

    Owners like to win. They will not stick with a trainer who is not winning. Moreover, when you are running against these cheating trainers your horse doesn’t have a chance to win – no way. So the problem happens with cooperation from the trainer, owner, and sometimes the racing commissions themselves. With trainers like Assmussen, Baffert, Sadler, and many more an honest trainer doesn’t have a chance, but neither does a talented racehorse.

    Some possible reasons surrounding this issue: 1) Drug testing is DRUG SPECIFIC. In other words, they have to know what drug they are testing for and these top trainers may be into the designer drugs so it is difficult to know exactly what they are using. 2) It’s possible that post-drug tests can be “switched out,” at either the drug testing barn or when the fax comes into the stewards office. 3) It seems very easy to use an electrical/mechanical device similar to a heart pacer that is rigged into the horse and saddle. This device controls the acceleration and deceleration of the horse’s heartbeat.

    So if the horse slows down during the race this device INDUCES increased heart rate for increased speed. Many horses can’t take the artificial control of their bodies and have heart attacks.

    A few years ago people tried to implement a “SCANNING” machine after a race whereby the saddle goes thru the machine when the jockey is on their way to the scales right after a race. There was an uproar by the very owners that are winning all the races so we are onto something just like the Lasix needle. IF Baffert is using an electrical device then they can conduct all the drug tests they want and will never find anything.

    Cheaters will always find a way to beat the system, and the racing industry is not doing enough to implement simple lost cost solutions such as a “SCANNER,” We are living in the 21st century where a “SCANNING” machine has a minimal cost (compared to the obscene profits being made on racetracks). Trainers/owners OFTEN blame a disgruntled employee. This is an old trick.

    Again, we live in the 21st century it should be MANDATORY for ALL racetracks to have an on-camera surveillance system in place in all barns where suspicious activity is immediately noticed. Again, they have conveniently overlooked this option.

    The unfortunate part of the ENTIRE racehorse business is that the RACEHORSE themselves pay the price for the corruption, and the lack of oversight which is precisely why we left the business. The best thing that could happen right now is that congress passes the Horse Racing Act where the US Olympic drug testing agency controls all drug testing and the RESULTS.

    Like

      1. Thank you. I could clean it up (especially in California), but the people in power block the efforts of honest people, and put people on the CHRB that upholds the systemic alleged corruption.

        Like

    1. Thanks Gina. I always appreciate your input and insight.

      Interesting about the uproar about the scanner. If there is nothing to hide….well you know the rest….

      Whether it be drugs or electrical devices, its all repulsive.

      Like

      1. Exactly. I do believe that the Horse Racing Act (being stalled in congress) will be a huge positive step to reduce corruption for the drug issue. The mechanical devices could be virtually eliminated with a post-race scanner especially for Graded Stake races.

        Like

    2. I used to think drug testing would help. It doesn’t seem to accomplish much. But I still want it. Testing alone however changes very little no matter who does it or controls the results. Let them play their games while horses suffer horribly and die. The cheaters will eventually face justice. But that won’t undo what the horses go through.

      Like

      1. I agree. However, the “Horse Racing Act,” which is now before Congress is a HUGE step in the right direction. It will provide MAJOR OVERSIGHT into drugs in horse racing. This is much needed change where people “outside” of racing with no connections & no horse ownership a “neutral” board conducting state of the art testing PLUS control the results instead of race owners. I hope it passes.

        Like

  8. Fabulous report Jane !!!!!!! Racing does not need Bob Baffert , who has resorted to using drugs on his thoroughbreds and having a groom lie for him, bottom of the barrel trainer antics to cause the deaths of all those beautiful horses, how good is he when he resorts to endangering horses and jockeys and Grooms????????? Only a has been trainer would resort to this , does the shoe fit Baffert ?????

    Like

    1. Baffert allegedly gives monetary gifts to people from racing secretaries to racing officials. It’s rumoured his owners have a built-in fee to ensure this gets done. Some money given to the “Clerk of Scales,” at any track goes a long way to weigh down other horses and/or ensure that electrical devices in whips or saddles go out the jockey room – ask Mike Smith he may know. Woodbine Racetrack in Canada is the only racetrack in North America to be under scrutiny ONLY because they were receiving 345 MILLION PER YEAR from Ontario taxpayers. There is so much money unaccounted for that the Ontario government BLOCKED the release of accounting records under the Freedom of Information Act. They are currently being sued. Anyways, the investigation found extensive corrupt activities including the Clerk of Scales accepting monies from jockey’s to weigh certain horses down that they knew were talented, but belonged to small outfits etc. etc. Many of these activities under the guidance of once President of Ontario Jockey Club Frank Stronach who win majority of stake races at Woodbine. He now owns Santa Anita in California and Gulfstream in Florida where most of his horses or buddies win the stake races or offspring of the Sires he owns wins while he has private security staff oversee all drug testing activities. Now if that isn’t conflict of interest I don’t know what is. Try speaking out against him – he OWNS the track. There is no doubt in my mind I allege he is one of the biggest race fixing jerks in the history of horse racing.

      Like

Comments are closed.