Mystery Lingers: Necropsy Findings Fail to Determine the Untimely Demise of Medina Spirit

The Mystery Surrounding the Death of Medina Spirit

An extensive necropsy performed on Kentucky Derby champion Medina Spirit has left the racing community perplexed and searching for answers. Despite the thorough investigation conducted by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), a definitive cause of death could not be determined for the late 3-year-old colt.

Detailed Postmortem Examination

The postmortem examination of Medina Spirit was carried out by five members of the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, who revealed certain medical issues that were “compatible with, but not specific for, a cardiac cause of death.” These issues included swollen lungs, foam in the trachea, an enlarged spleen, congestion, and mild hemorrhages in other tissues.

Although these findings pointed towards a potential cardiac cause of death, extensive testing failed to establish a definitive conclusion. Additionally, the examination showed the presence of Omeprazole and Lasix in Medina Spirit’s blood and urine samples. Omeprazole is an anti-ulcer medication, while Lasix is an anti-bleeding diuretic that is often used during workouts, despite being banned on race days in California.

It is important to note that no other drugs, heavy metals, or toxicants were detected during the investigation. However, it was discovered that Medina Spirit suffered from degenerative joint disease in his fetlock and elbow joints, which is a common condition among racehorses.

A Collaborative Effort of Veterinary Experts

Following Medina Spirit’s sudden death, a team of veterinarian experts conducted an extensive examination to unravel the mystery. The examination took place at the California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) San Bernardino laboratory and involved renowned experts such as Dr. Francisco Uzal, Dr. Javier Asin Ros, Dr. Monika Samol, Dr. Robert Poppenga, and Dr. Benjamin Moeller. Dr. John Pasco, the executive associate dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Ashley Hill, the CAHFS Director, oversaw this team of pathology, toxicology, and equine drug testing experts.

The doctors meticulously examined Medina Spirit’s body and collected various specimens for examination and testing, including genetic testing. Tissue samples were collected from multiple organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidney, stomach, intestines, muscle, brain, spinal cord, testicles, and other glands. Every sample was thoroughly examined for abnormalities, while the liver was specifically tested for heavy metals, anticoagulants, pesticides, environmental contaminants, and external products.

To further investigate potential causes of sudden death in racehorses, heart tissue samples from Medina Spirit were sent to the University of Minnesota and the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory as part of an ongoing research program conducted in collaboration with the CHRB.

Independent Reviews and Final Report

After the extensive examination and testing, Medina Spirit was cremated. The final report was then sent to Dr. Laura Kennedy at the University of Kentucky and Dr. Grant Maxie of the University of Guelph for an independent review and validation of the findings.

Dr. Ashley Hill emphasized the thoroughness of the investigation and the importance of leaving no stone unturned. Although the results of the examination and reviews came back within normal limits, the racing community remains puzzled by the lack of a clear cause of death for such a prominent racehorse.

The Complexity of Identifying Sudden Death Causes

The report released by the CHRB highlighted an international study that found causes of exercise-related sudden death in racehorses to be undetermined in 25% of cases. This statistic demonstrates the complexity of unraveling the mysteries surrounding sudden death in these elite athletes.

While the investigation into Medina Spirit’s death was extensive and thorough, the process is not yet completer. Dr. Alina Vale will conduct a required review of the necropsy report under CHRB Rule 1846.6, accompanied by a CHRB safety steward and a member of the Board of Stewards. If any rule violations are identified in Dr. Vale’s report, the CHRB will initiate further investigation and potential disciplinary actions.

It is worth noting that this standard process applies to every fatality at a CHRB regulated track, reflecting the commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of racehorses.


The death of Medina Spirit, a Kentucky Derby champion, has left the racing community searching for answers. Despite conducting an extensive necropsy and collaborating with renowned veterinary experts, a definitive cause of death could not be established. The investigation did reveal certain medical issues, including signs compatible with a cardiac cause of death. However, no conclusive evidence was found, leaving the cause of Medina Spirit’s death shrouded in uncertainty.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can Omeprazole and Lasix be considered causes of Medina Spirit’s death?

No, the presence of Omeprazole and Lasix in Medina Spirit’s blood and urine samples, while banned on race days in California, is unlikely to be the direct cause of his death. These medications are commonly used in racing and serve specific purposes unrelated to sudden death.

2. Was there any evidence of foul play or mistreatment in Medina Spirit’s case?

No evidence of foul play or mistreatment was found during the investigation. The focus of the examination was to determine the cause of death and identify any potential contributing factors.

3. Are sudden deaths common among racehorses?

Sudden deaths among racehorses, particularly those related to exercise, are relatively rare but can occur. Identifying the precise cause can be challenging due to the complex nature of these cases.

4. What measures are taken to ensure the safety of racehorses?

The racing industry and organizations like the CHRB have implemented various safety measures to protect racehorses. These include regular veterinary check-ups, drug testing, track protocols, and ongoing research into potential causes of sudden death.

5. What impact did Medina Spirit have on the racing world?

Medina Spirit made a significant impact on the racing world, winning multiple races and earning a substantial amount of prize money. His Kentucky Derby victory cemented his place in racing history, but his untimely death has left a void and raised important questions within the industry.

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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