Putting California Sudden Death Numbers in Perspective

by | 06.20.2013 | 1:51pm

At the April 11 meeting of the California Horse Racing Board, commissioner Bo Derek, chairman of the regulatory agency's Medication and Track Safety Committee, in reviewing the sudden deaths of Thoroughbred racehorses at California tracks said that “no trainer or trainers have been mentioned in our discussions of sudden deaths.”

Derek's statement overlooked the numbers from one barn that was responsible for almost one in five of the state's entire sudden death toll.

The CHRB reported that, from July 1, 2011, through March 31, 2013, 36 horses died from sudden death, defined by the regulatory agency as a healthy horse that dies during or within an hour of racing or training as the result of something other than a musculoskeletal injury.

Seven of those 36 dead horses came from the barn of trainer Bob Baffert.


Baffert has many horses in his care, so it might be worthwhile to put some perspective on those numbers. The Paulick Report researched the matter and came up with the following:

—During the period July 1, 2011, through March 31, 2013, 220 individual horses made 832 starts in California for trainer Baffert. Seven of his horses died a sudden death (heart attack, pulmonary hemorrhage, etc.). That is a ratio of one sudden death per 31.4 horses or one for every 119 starts in California.

—During the period July 1, 2011, through March 31, 2013, 590 other trainers had 8,759 individual horses make 53,562 starts. Twenty-nine of those horses died a sudden death, a ratio of one sudden death per 302.0 horses or one for every 1,847 starts.

—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.

It isn't clear whether the CHRB is conducting an active investigation into what may have caused what the agency's equine medical director, veterinarian Rick Arthur, called an “anomaly” in regard to the Baffert horses.

An April 12, 2013, a statement from Baffert, issued by public relations/ crisis management firm Englander, Knabe & Allen, stated both Derek and Arthur “have made it clear that nothing I have done has caused any horse I have trained to suffer equine sudden death syndrome.”

That statement would suggest the matter is closed.

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