Baffert, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby based at Santa Anita, could not be reached for comment.
When Pegram’s 4-year-old colt, CJ Russell, died of apparent heart failure after completing his June 15 race last year at Hollywood Park, the necropsy report stated that it was Baffert’s “fourth horse to collapse/die for this trainer in less than one year.”
A fifth death occurred Aug. 20, 2012, when a 2-year-old male at Hollywood Park died from heart failure while training, according to Paulick.
U-T San Diego also has requested necropsy information from all race horses that have died in the last 18 months in California. The CHRB reports that 19 horses died acutely from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. Baffert trained four of them. And thus far in the fiscal year that ends June 30, 17 horses have died suddenly. Baffert trained three of them, including a 5-year-old mare that died last month at Hollywood Park, according to the reports.
Although sudden deaths of horses are very rare, with statistics showing an average of less than 10 percent a year dying that way, there were two last summer at Del Mar during the race meeting. Neither was trained by Baffert. In early August of 2010, Tuscan Evening, a 5-year-old turf star trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, had won six races that year, but died of a heart attack after working out on the turf course at Del Mar.
Paulick didn’t name the trainers, but he said trainers “with more than 30 years of experience” told him they hadn’t lost more than three horses to sudden death in their entire careers.
Also, Mike Marten, information officer for the California Horse Racing Board, confirmed that it was revealed at the CHRB’s Medication and Track Safety Committee meeting Wednesday that two of the horses that died suddenly in the last 18 months had “rodenticide” in their systems. However, the rodenticide did not match what was used by companies that provide rodent control services at Southern California tracks. Marten said Dr. Francisco Uzal of the University of California-Davis and the CHRB’s equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, could not confirm that the rat poison was the cause of death in the two horses that died with it in their systems. One of the horses was reportedly trained by Baffert, a fact not confirmed by the CHRB.