Homeboykris, one of two horses that died on Preakness day, was running with an elevated level of the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone in his blood, according to a necropsy report released Tuesday by the Maryland Racing Commission.
The 9-year-old gelding died of a heart attack, according to the necropsy, performed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture in Frederick. But the commission’s chief veterinarian, Dr. David Zipf, said the medication violation “would not have contributed to the death” of the horse, said Mike Hopkins, executive director for the racing commission.
Homeboykris won the first race of the day only to collapse on his way back to the barn.
Trainer Francis Campitelli was fined $500 for the medication violation and was also assigned a point in the state’s penalty system, which could lead to a harsher punishment in the future if he commits subsequent violations.
Homeboykris had the anti-inflammatory in his blood plasma at a level of 30 picograms per milliliter, exceeding the permitted level of 5 picograms per milliliter. Hopkins compared the difference to “a grain of sand in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”
Dr. John Sivick, an equine veterinarian based in Odenton, told the commission he provided a packet of dexamethasone powder to be administered to Homeboykris two days before the race. The drug is commonly used to treat horses, and generally speaking, the side effect veterinarians and trainers worry about most is the hoof disease laminitis.
Neither Campitelli nor Sivick returned calls seeking comment on Tuesday afternoon.
Dr. Dionne Benson, executive director of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium in Kentucky, said dexamethasone is a powerful corticosteroid, commonly used to reduce inflammation both inside and outside of racing. But she agreed with Zipf’s conclusion that there’s no obvious link between the drug and a heart attack.
“I’m not aware of any research that shows a higher incidence of cardiovascular events associated with it,” she said.
Dr. Thomas Bowman, a veterinarian who sits on the commission, agreed that the drug likely did not contribute to the gelding’s death. He compared the incident to a 55-year-old human jogger suffering an unexpected heart attack.
“That would be taken for granted as part of nature’s cycle,” Bowman said. “Common sense dictates that things of this nature occur.”
Dr. Virginia Pierce, the pathologist who performed the necropsy, wrote that the “causes of sudden de
ath in race horses are poorly understood and often the cause is undetermined. This particular case is uncommon in the sense that the sudden death occurred sometime after the race and not during or shortly after.”
Campitelli raced Homeboykris at a relatively advanced age, but the horse was running well, having won three of his previous five starts entering Preakness day. The veterinarian who examined him before his race on Preakness day found him to be in good condition. He had finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby as a 3-year-old.
By contrast, a report on the other Preakness day death revealed nothing unusual.
Pramedya broke her left front leg in the fourth race of the day and was euthanized on the track. Her breakdown was particularly eerie because she was owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who also owned Barbaro. He broke his leg in the Preakness 10 years earlier.
The deaths added a somber note to the 141st running of the Preakness, which set records for attendance and betting handle.
They also drew attention from PETA and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which sent a letter to the racing commission last week urging the release of the necropsies.
A spokeswoman for the Animal Legal Defense Fund said the organization would not have a statement on the necropsy results until Wednesday.
“It’s vital that these horses are not forgotten — and that their deaths are investigated and explained,” the organization’s executive director, Stephen Wells, said last week. “Horses used for ‘sport,’ such as racing, undergo tremendous stress and hardship — and it’s necessary to rule out any type of abuse that may have contributed to their death.”
Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer for the Stronach Group, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, said the sport is moving in the right direction in preventing injuries. But it’s natural, he added, to focus on deaths that mar big racing days.
“It’s always tough for all of us to take,” he said.