12/31/2012 5:44PM

Santa Anita: A distressed Baffert speaks out on Tweebster

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Tweebster, shown in the paddock in the fall, broke down and was euthanized Sunday after being dropped in class.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Tweebster, a past stakes-class runner, was euthanized because of his injuries suffered when racing for a $12,500 claiming price Sunday at Santa Anita, and on Monday, his trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, took the unusual step of issuing a statement through Santa Anita about the horse, the result, he said, of an outcry in social media.

Tweebster in 2011 was third in the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap, and in 2012 he was fourth in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap. As recently as September, he competed in a stakes race at Fairplex. But he was risked for a $40,000 claiming price at Santa Anita on Oct. 26, then did not race again until Sunday, when he ran for $12,500. He finished fifth of nine in a sprint, but was pulled up shortly following the race and was removed via ambulance.

According to Santa Anita’s stewards, Tweebster suffered fractures to both sesamoids in his left front leg, which led to him being euthanized.

“There is nothing lower than the death of a horse,” Baffert’s statement read. “When the public’s perception is that you are somehow responsible it makes the pain all the greater. Not only am I distressed over the death of this tough, gallant horse, I am deeply troubled by the comments on social media,” which, he said suggest “the horse was unsound and I was merely trying to get rid of him.”

According to Baffert, the significant class drop Sunday was “not based on a lack of soundness, but rather a lack of races available for him at higher claiming prices.”

“Tweebster was healthy and happy,” Baffert said. “I felt he was in need of a confidence booster and thought this would be an easy spot for him to get it. I understand a severe drop in class can indicate a horse is unsound, but I assure you that was not the case with Tweebster.”

Baffert pointed out that Tweebster, like all horses scheduled to compete, was examined by the state veterinarian the morning of the race and judged fit to run. In addition, veterinarians watch horses during the post parade for any signs of distress.

Baffert said jockey Martin Garcia felt Tweebster take a bad step after the race.

“We brought him back to the barn in hopes of saving him, but knew quickly that wasn’t going to be the case,” Baffert said.

“While I realize some people are going to think what they want, I want to express my feelings and deepest regret over the loss of a horse for whom I had a great deal of affection,” Baffert said.

Tweebster, a gelding who would have been 6 on Jan. 1, was owned by Kaleem Shah. He won 3 times in 22 starts and earned just shy of $250,000.

Statement from Bob Baffert regarding Tweebster

We all know racing is a sport of extreme highs and lows, and there is nothing lower than the death of a horse. When the public's perception is that you are somehow responsible it makes the pain all the greater. Not only am I distressed over the death of this tough, gallant horse, I am deeply troubled by the comments on social media.  They insinuate Tweebster's death was a result of my dropping him down for a $12,500 claiming tag, suggesting the horse was unsound and I was merely trying to get rid of him.

I respect and fully appreciate the sensitivity regarding the well being of animals, so I feel I owe it to everyone to explain the events that led to Tweebster's injury and subsequent death.

As is required, Tweebster was thoroughly examined by the state veterinarian yesterday morning and found to be perfectly sound going into the race.  The decision to run him in this particular race was not based on a lack of soundness, but rather a lack of races available for him at higher claiming prices. Tweebster was healthy and happy.  I felt he was in need of a confidence booster and thought this would be an easy spot for him to get it. I understand a severe drop in class can indicate a horse is unsound, but I assure you that was not the case with Tweebster.  Just before the race, heavy rain and hail poured down, making the track  more muddy and heavier.  The horse was moving great and his jockey says he felt comfortable throughout the race.  It wasn't until after the finish that Martin felt him take a bad step.  We brought him back to the barn in hopes of saving him, but knew quickly that wasn't going to be the case.

I have run horses at lower levels in the past and seen them regain their old form by getting their confidence back.  Sometimes I have had the horses claimed from me in the process and they have gone on to win stakes and allowance races for other owners and trainers.  I realize that is part of the claiming game.

The death of any horse on the racetrack is hard to accept.  When that horse is one who you saw and took care of everyday, the pain is physically gut wrenching .  While I realize some people are going to think what they want, I want to express my feelings and deepest regret over the loss of a horse for whom I had a great deal of affection.