04/11/2013 4:37PM

CHRB investigating sudden deaths at Hollywood, Santa Anita


ARCADIA, Calif. – At least seven instances of sudden death have occurred in Thoroughbreds at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita since late November, according to a source who has seen the necropsy reports. Incidents of sudden death are being investigated by the California Horse Racing Board although it was not clear from comments made at a Thursday board meeting whether the rate of sudden deaths was unusual or whether the deaths were somehow linked.

When asked on Thursday for more details, racing board chairman David Israel said, “We can’t comment on an ongoing investigation."

At least two of the horses who died – Consulado and Miners Daughter – were trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Other Thoroughbred trainers with horses who suffered sudden death in recent months are Myung Kwon Cho (Riveting Reason), Kathy Walsh (Coolofthevening), Sean McCarthy (Glory Quest), Mike Mitchell (Truism), and Jack Van Berg (Warren’s Hottie).

Baffert declined to discuss the instances of sudden death when approached at his stable during morning training at Santa Anita on Thursday. “I’m not going to comment on that,” he said.

According to several published reports, Baffert has had as many as seven instances of horses suffering sudden death in the last 16 months. During that time, there was at least one prominent instance of sudden death in a Baffert-trained runner when the 5-year-old Irrefutable collapsed after finishing second in the Vernon Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park in November 2011.

Glory Quest never raced and was stricken by a heart attack shortly after a workout at Santa Anita in late February, McCarthy said on Thursday.

“She had a heart condition that we never knew about,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know if a valve broke or if she had a weak valve. She never showed any signs of anything.”

Truism suffered a heart attack at Santa Anita in early March, Mitchell said.

“He never skipped a day of training,” Mitchell said. “He was strong as an ox. It was a heart attack. It took everyone by surprise.”

Walsh said that Cooloftheevening was stricken as she was walking off the track after exercise in early January, and appeared to have suffered a heart attack-related injury.

At a racing board medication and track safety committee meeting at Santa Anita on Wednesday, Dr. Rick Arthur, California equine medical director, said that 20 sudden deaths of all breeds of racehorses throughout the state were reported in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011; 19 in 2011-12; and 17 in the current fiscal year, through Tuesday.

Arthur declined to comment on specific instances of sudden death in racehorses after the full board’s meeting on Thursday.

At Thursday’s racing board meeting, commissioner Bo Derek reiterated Arthur’s findings to the committee in a summary of Wednesday’s meeting.

“Sudden deaths has not spiked in California,” Derek said. “Dr. Arthur clearly reported that number of sudden deaths has been consistent in the past 20 years in the neighborhood of 20 per year.

“To be clear on another point, no trainer or trainers have been mentioned.”

Without discussing specific cases, Arthur said on Thursday that the leading causes of sudden deaths include cardiac failure; respiratory issues, such as excessive bleeding; and vascular failure, such as a ruptured aorta.

Arthur said on Wednesday that two of the horses who have died suddenly in the last five months were found to have rat poison in their systems during necropsies.

Arthur said that in the two incidents in which horses tested positive for rat poison the deaths of the unnamed horses were attributed to internal hemorrhage. He said foul play was not suspected and that the level of rat poison found was at “trace level.”

Derek said on Thursday that the rat poison found in the horses was not the same material used by Hollywood Park and Santa Anita for pest control.