Report on Baffert Deaths: No Wrongdoing But ‘There’s Something Wrong Here’

by | 11.21.2013 | 6:56pm
Trainer Bob Baffert

An extensive investigation by the California Horse Racing Board into the sudden deaths of seven horses from trainer Bob Baffert's barn at Hollywood Park, from November 2011 to March 2013, concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Baffert or anyone associated with his stable.  The report could find no specific reason for the abnormal number of deaths in one stable.

The report was presented by Dr. Rick Arthur, the CHRB's equine medical director, at the regulatory board's regular monthly meeting, held at Hollywood Park on Thursday. It summarized results of post-mortem examination, toxicology and environmental tests, along with exercise and medication histories. Arthur said on multiple occasions that Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer, was extremely cooperative throughout the investigation, as were his staff and veterinarians.

Arthur said the CHRB and its researchers, who conduct post-mortem examinations of all equine fatalities at licensed racing and training facilities in the state, “has not identified a definitive explanation into the highly unusual sudden death clustering” of horses trained by Baffert. “There is no factually based explanation,” he said. “There is no evidence whatsoever that CHRB rules or regulations have been violated or any improper activity played a part in the sudden deaths.”

Nevertheless, Arthur called the “clustering” of the deaths over such a short time “undeniably exceptional.” He said the “probability value” of the occurrence was “less than .001 percent (one out of a thousand). Statistically, it is extremely abnormal.”

All horses were given toxicology tests with both urine and blood samples taken (urine was extracted from the bladder of the corpses). Nothing illegal was detected, said Arthur, though he called it “troublesome” that Baffert had the thyroid drug Thyro-L administered to all of the horses in his stable. Since the seventh sudden death occurred in March, Arthur said, Baffert has dropped that regimen.

A racetrack veterinarian contacted by the Paulick Report said the practice of routinely administering Thyro-L was not unusual.

The CHRB became aware of the Baffert deaths in November 2011 when two horses died in a relatively short time. Arthur said CHRB track veterinarian Jill Bailey contacted him, and that board chairman David Israel and others were then notified. Each subsequent Baffert death was examined carefully, although no public statements were made about the unusual number dying until published reports surfaced in April 2013, one month after the seventh horse dropped dead while training.

Arthur said the number of sudden deaths, which spiked from 2010-2012, have declined during the current year with just three such deaths from all trainers. No Baffert horses have died of non-musculoskeletal injuries since March.

“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 do is say, ‘There's something wrong here.'”

Following the CHRB meeting, Baffert posted the following on his Twitter account: “I'm gratified that CHRB completed its investigation & found there was no wrongdoing . My focus will always be on the best care for my horses.”

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