Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has been in the news plenty, and recently it has not always been about his trips to the winner’s circle.
Between July 1, 2011, and March 14, 2013 seven horses in his care, all at his stable at Hollywood Park dropped dead. Recently the California Horse Racing Board released its findings and exonerated Baffert of any wrongdoing, despite the statistical anomaly of the large number of horses that died in his care.
(Note: This article was written on Dec. 10, 2013)
On Dec. 9, Los Angeles Times writer Bill Dwyre wrote an article entitled, “Horse racing has problems, but trainer Bob Baffert isn’t one of them.”
In his article, Dwyre writes that “It is time to move on” and ‘Racing needs Baffert.”
Let me make a couple of things perfectly clear to Mr. Dwyre.
Racing does not need Baffert. Racing needs answers. Racing needs transparency. Racing needs integrity. Racing needs leadership. Racing needs a uniform drug policy. Racing needs lower takeout (just thought I would toss that last one in there).
Most importantly, racing needs horseplayers, and a hell of a lot more than it needs Bob Baffert.
I am not saying Mr. Baffert is a cheater. The necropsy findings came back clear of any illegal drugs.
However, something caused those seven horses to drop dead. Was it the Thryo-L, which was given to all of the horses? Since Baffert stop using it (a thyroid hormone used to treat hypothyroid conditions although apparently it is commonly used as a “supplement”) Baffert has not had any deaths.
Could it be an excessive usage of legal drugs like furosemide and phenylbutazone?
Could there have been some type of contamination at the barn? Illegal drugs that do not show up in tests? Was there something wrong with the racing surface?
Something caused the deaths, unless Baffert is just the unluckiest trainer on the planet.
Baffert did have a 60-day suspension back in 2001 when a horse tested positive for morphine, but for the most part has not had many violations.
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
— Bob Baffert (@Midnightlute) November 21, 2013
So for now, Baffert is off the hook, and there are horseplayers venting their frustration on social media. Dwyre is suggesting we all move on and that we need Baffert.
While some of the criticism is directed at Baffert, much of it is the fact that nothing was found, which for the horse racing industry is par for the course. For every Rick Dutrow (who was suspended for 10 years) there are dozens of trainers that get wrist slaps for drug violations and continue to ply their trade, winning at a 30% clip.
Horseplayers are tired of the status quo. The CHRB needs to find out why those seven horses died, and give horseplayers a straight answer. We deserve at least that much.
Now, back to Dwyre. His assumption that racing needs Baffert is ridiculous. Casual sports fans tune into the Kentucky Derby to watch the most famous horse race of the year. While they may know the names Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, if they both retired tomorrow the television ratings would hardly be affected next spring.
Dwyre’s biggest mystifying statement was, “What motivation would a trainer have for mistreatment of a horse that leads to its death?”
Trainers push the envelope every single day, starting sore horses or using the latest undetectable drug, everything from frog juice to cobra venom to look for an edge.
For Dwyre to think that trainers that are using illegal drugs and methods are not putting the lives of the horses in danger is naïve.
Horseplayers need to be more vocal not less, and the horse racing industry needs action. The sport does not move forward without horseplayers. It will move forward without Baffert.
Mr. Dwyre, it is not time to move on. It is time for everyone to realize the sport needs horseplayers a lot more than it needs Baffert.
As Baffert himself would say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
The Ugly Numbers
According to the report, Baffert had the seven sudden deaths and one at Santa Anita in 2010. Using all sudden deaths for Baffert (8 deaths, 2512 starts) there is an incidence of 3.18 deaths per 1,000 race starts. For comparison, all sudden deaths for non-Baffert trained horses (70 deaths, 199,637 starts) have an incidence of 0.35 deaths/1,000 race starts.
The Report Conclusion
“The cluster of seven sudden deaths of horses trained by Bob Baffert on the Hollywood Park main and stabled in Barn 61 at Hollywood Park remains unexplained. Three horses had definitive diagnoses; three horses had presumptive diagnoses with specific pathological findings and one death is unexplained. There is no evidence whatsoever CHRB rules or regulations have been violated or any illicit activity played a part in the 7 sudden deaths “
Baffert statement in April:
“The safety of my horses has been and always will be the most important thing to me. The mysterious deaths are personally troubling and of great sadness to me, my family and the owners of the horses. My heart goes out to the horses’ owners.
“I am working with everyone, including the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), my veterinarians and staff at the tracks to find causes for the unexplained deaths. California Horse Racing Board’s Bo Derek and the state’s equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur have made it clear that nothing I have done has caused any horse I have trained to suffer equine sudden death syndrome. My professional focus will continue to be to provide the best care for my horses, with constant concern for their well-being.
“I hope that research by CHRB and its pathologists will discover information helpful to understanding the reasons that I, and many of my colleagues, have had horses suffer this unfortunate fate.”