Citing California Horse Racing Board and Daily Racing Form data, The Washington Post reported June 18 that at least 74 horses have died in trainer Bob Baffert's care in California since 2000, trailing only two other trainers in the state.
The Post's analysis concluded that Baffert trainees have died at the highest rate per starts of the 10 trainers with the most horse deaths there, an occurrence rate of 8.3 deaths per 1,000 starts. The figures include deaths from illnesses in addition to breakdowns.
The mortality disclosure by the Post comes at a time when Baffert is facing scrutiny after his trainee, Zedan Racing Stables' Medina Spirit, tested positive for betamethasone after winning the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) at Churchill Downs. That infraction, which could lead to the colt's disqualification and a fine and suspension for Baffert from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, marked the fifth time a Baffert-trained horse tested positive for prohibited medications since May 2, 2020.
The Post acknowledged the potential for some inaccuracy in the figures it collected from the CHRB, writing that at least one death of a Baffert horse identified by the publication was not included in the regulator's statistics.
Clark Brewster, attorney for Amr Zedan of Zedan Racing Stables, and Baffert attorney Craig Robertson disputed some of the statistics, saying one of the horses listed was never in Baffert's care, and another was a stable pony. They also criticized a per-start mortality review, rather than the volume of horses he trains, which they said would be "consistent with what would normally be expected from the horse population in general."
"No horse-loving person like Bob or his entire team accepts the reality of a horse death with anything other than sadness and despair," the lawyers said in their statement to the Post. "In each instance, the death is investigated. Every investigation over the past 20 years has reached the same conclusion: no rules or regulations have been violated nor has there been any improper activity on Bob's part."
Other trainers, some that run a high number of horses, identified by the Post with the most horse fatalities in California since 2000 and listed in order of rate of deaths per 1,000 starts were Jeff Bonde (8.12), Charles Treece (6.79), Jerry Hollendorfer (6.25), William E. Morey (5.83), John Sadler (5.62), Jesus Nunez (5.22), Jose Flores (4.51), Paul Jones (3.21), and Doug O'Neill (3.20).
In May 2019, following four deaths from his horses that year at Santa Anita Park, Hollendorfer was banned from running horses there and at other tracks owned by The Stronach Group. Hollendorfer has contested the action in the California court system.
The Post noted a 2013 CHRB investigation into a cluster of sudden deaths by Baffert trainees at Betfair Hollywood Park. According to a report from CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur, he found that Baffert was dispensing a thyroid hormone to all of his horses without evidence they needed the medication.
Ultimately, the CHRB concluded the deaths did not have any similarities to each other and had no single, identifiable cause. Years later, the CHRB also chose not to take action to disqualify Baffert trainee and eventual 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify from a victory in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby (G1) after he tested positive for scopolamine over concerns by Arthur that the test's findings for scopolamine were triggered by environmental contamination.