06/21/2013 9:16PM

California Racing Board continues investigation into sudden deaths of horses

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The California Horse Racing Board announced Friday that it is continuing to review cases of sudden deaths that have occurred in Thoroughbreds in Southern California racehorses in recent years.

In a two-paragraph statement, the racing board did not state when the review might be completed.

In April, Dr. Rick Arthur, California’s equine medical director, said there were 17 cases of sudden deaths in all breeds of racehorses throughout the state from July 1, 2012, to early April. Data on whether the number of sudden deaths has increased since early April was not immediately available late Friday afternoon.

Arthur gave testimony at a racing board medication and track safety committee meeting at Santa Anita in April that 20 sudden deaths of all breeds of racehorses occurred in the state in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011; and 19 sudden deaths occurred in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

From late November 2012 to early April of this year, at least seven instances of sudden deaths occurred in Thoroughbreds at Betfair Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, according to a source who saw the necropsy reports. At least two of those horses who died were trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who had horses stabled at both tracks.

Other Thoroughbred trainers with horses who suffered sudden death during that span at Southern California tracks were Myung Kwon Cho, Sean McCarthy, Mike Mitchell, Jack Van Berg, and Kathy Walsh. The leading causes were cardiac failure, respiratory issues, and vascular failure.

According to several published reports in April, Baffert had as many as seven instances of horses suffer sudden death in a 16-month period ending in April. During that time, there was one prominent instance of sudden death in a Baffert-trained runner when Irrefutable collapsed after finishing second in the Vernon Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park.

Baffert later released a statement, describing the loss of the horses as “personally troubling and of great sadness to me.” Baffert said in the statement that he was working with the racing board, his veterinarians and track officials “to find the causes of the unexplained deaths.”

In its statement released on Friday, the racing board did not name any specific trainers.

In part, the statement read, “given that one barn at Hollywood Park housed a relatively high number of the sudden deaths that occurred over the last two years, CHRB investigators have taken steps to determine if there was a relationship between the barn and sudden deaths.”

“Interviews were conducted with the personnel at that barn, including the trainer, assistant trainer, and veterinarians. All were very cooperative and provided all relevant information. Environmental possibilities as a cause are also being evaluated and tests will be conducted.

“The pathology and toxicology work has been completed on those horses with no indication of foul play. This aspect of the review is believed to have been as thorough of an examination as has ever been done anywhere in the world with such cases.”

The racing board said in its statement that no further information would be provided until a report is published.