HENDERSON, Ky. (WFIE) - During a stakes race Sunday, fourth-place finisher Sir Navigator collapsed on the walk back after a race and died while he was being treated on the track.
“He collapsed after unsaddling,” said chief state veterinarian Bruce Howard. “They got him up and he took a few steps and collapsed and died. We put ice blankets on him, started to treat him and before we could get much going with him, he was gone. The top three things you would think of would be; heart attack, a bleeding incident internally or heat. He didn’t act typically of heat, but you can’t say before an autopsy is done.”
According to a statement issued by Ellis Park, they can’t speculate about the cause of the death, but it’s a standard in Kentucky for the horse to undergo an autopsy. Officials do say they are confident that it had nothing to do with a musculoskeletal or soundness issue.
They say the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Ellis Park take many precautions to make sure the horses are in good shape and all horses running are inspected by a state-employed veterinarian the morning of the race.
Ellis Park has canceled racing on July 19 and 20 due to heat, but officials say Sunday wasn’t abnormally warm or humid, and no other horses showed signs of duress.
Ellis Park’s general manager, Jeff Hall issued the following statement:
“If Sir Navigator had shown any signs of a problem, he would not have run yesterday. The horse ran a very good race and what happened after the race came completely out of the blue. He was being walked back toward the barn area when he collapsed. Water was put on him, as is protocol in such a situation, by his handlers and the horse got back up. He was continuing his walk back when he collapsed again and died as he was being treated by our state veterinary staff.
“It’s extremely unfortunate and our hearts go out to Sir Navigator’s team. No one cares more about these horses than the people who spend hours with them every day, attending to their every need. Horse deaths are extremely rare at Ellis Park, and we are proud of our reputation as one of the safest racing surfaces in the country. This was an isolated incident, but as we always do, we will look at and evaluate everything to see if there was something else that could have been done. On the surface, however, it appears as though no one could have seen it coming.
Sir Navigator was trained by Robertino Diodoro, who is also the co-owner. Sir Navigator had won eight of 22 races and came into Sunday’s race coming off a pair of second-place finishes at Church Hill Downs.