J.N. Campbell Commentary: A Holistic View of Medina Spirit’s Death

The passing of Medina Spirit has brought forward all sorts of commentary with the Kentucky Derby winner's death last week. J.N. Campbell tries to make sense of it all in this piece.
The passing of Medina Spirit has brought forward all sorts of commentary with the Kentucky Derby winner's death last week. J.N. Campbell tries to make sense of it all in this piece.

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It’s been one week since we learned the shocking and terrible news that the reigning Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, had suddenly died. Not since the passing of Barbaro in 2007, have we seen such an outpouring of grief concerning a KYD champ. The channels were flooded with reports, and it did not take long for members of the mainstream media to ask the question, “Did the horse die because of the illegal substance he was given before the Derby?”

I am not necessarily chiding those that wrote or uttered this … I get it, they want to kick over the biggest rock possible. Ratings are at stake, aren’t they? Yet, what I find utterly ridiculous about going in this direction is that news organizations pride themselves on “getting the truth” and “verifying their sources,” but yet they were openly willing to entertain something that cannot be uncovered … at least, not yet. Why not wait and see what the necropsy report offers before making such presumptions? I will answer that two-fold … the first reason is that they simply cannot wait months for a report, and secondly, they are willing and able to take that kind of leap because it involves one person … trainer Bob Baffert.

As the unequivocal “face” of the sport of Thoroughbred racing, he has opened himself to attacks over the years by not putting his own house in order. A victim of his own success (and poor PR), now he is fighting for his reputation and legacy; probably never having the chance to properly exonerate himself when it comes to a “fair deal” in the Court of Public Opinion. The story is just too sensational for news outlets to ignore ... patience is at a premium, especially since the Kentucky Horseracing Commission has dragged their feet. They have allowed the ruling to languish as to whether Baffert’s charge will retain his title that he earned on the “First Saturday in May.”

This continuing protracted saga is also helping to fuel such conjecture. Thus, casual observers and enemies of the sport are waking up just in time to see it at its very lowest point. The "I told you so" mentality has run amok. I cannot really sway the latter because opponents of the sport will always exist. But to the former, the casual fans out there, I urge you not to listen to media in the way this story is being presented. I would argue that we need to be looking at the death of Medina Spirit in a much different way … a holistic one.

Holism is the philosophical approach to thinking of wholes or with complete systems, rather than disparate parts which need individual attention. In the medical field, holistic thinking treats symptoms as interconnected with the mind and the body working in concert with one another (i.e. acupuncture). Thinking of it another way, Jan Smuts, the well-known South African politician who coined the term, believed that governmental systems are holistic. Thus, one part of the globe could be affected by another; hence, why he believed in the idea of collective security. All threads lead into one … in other words.

Thinking of Medina Spirit, and the controversy surrounding the humans associated with him in 2021, I find that a holistic approach is best. We don’t know exactly why he collapsed after that workout last week. If indeed it was a heart attack, then the report will support such a claim. Sure, there could be some connection to the 21 picograms of betamethasone that was found in his system, and his unexpected death at Santa Anita Racetrack. But the fact of the matter is that we need to wait. Let the science in the laboratory produce its results. The public should reserve judgement, and not reside in the realm of assumptions produced by a media that only delves into reporting only when things go wrong.

Let’s remember that Thoroughbreds are just like humans, in that they possess a complex anatomy and physiology. They can die suddenly, and it is sad. We do not expect high-end athletes, which are conditioned to do one thing (in this case run fast), to suddenly pass from this Earth. But it does happen. I am reminded of my Hobbes who said life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” My hope is that the sport can continue to evolve, weather the onslaught of ridiculous suppositions, and explain, plus educate, those on the outside looking in. Holistically-speaking, that could go a long way to helping when disaster strikes. As for Medina Spirit, may his body rest in peace, while his memory lives on.

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