Horses running in the Kentucky Derby have only just hit their third birthday. Those magnificent creatures on which millions are wagered and stories of glory and sentiment inspired are but enslaved toddlers. No horse at two or even three years old is physically or mentally prepared for what is forced upon it by the racing industry.
Even with new measures and oversight in place, young horses continue to break down, suffer injuries that will be chronic for the rest of their lives, and are medicated when they would not otherwise be if not for the damage done by the immense pressure they are under.
The scandal swirling about Medina Spirit, the fifth such drug violation brought against trainer Bob Baffert in the past year, is an event that must be looked at in the context of the horse’s age. Viewing the situation as black and white, positive test or negative test, though convenient, grossly oversimplifies a real issue which is the ethical concern over drug use on young racehorses who are pushed too hard.
Medina Spirit and all the other horses who ran against him on 1 May trained and raced rigorously throughout their two-year-old year in preparation for the Derby. The findings of drugs in his and other Baffert horses’ in post-race tests tell a story that should not be dismissed based on flimsy explanations of accidental contamination. Though we must wait and see if the truth surfaces regarding Medina Spirit, what cannot be denied is that injecting steroids into the faltering joints of a young horse is common practice in racing and in Mr Baffert’s barn.