Social media spins Baffert criticism out of control

Someday a public relations class will do a case study on what has been happening lately to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. At the center of it all are seven horses that died suddenly, while under his care, in a 16-month period.

Ray Paulick of first published the story in April. It was born in February, when the California Horse Racing Board issued a report concerning a growing number of sudden horse deaths due to cardiac arrest.

The CHRB has not released the names or trainers of the dead horses but has updated the number to 36.

Paulick, using the Freedom of Information Act, researched that Baffert trained seven of the horses.

What has occurred since shows how bad news, if not confronted properly, can spiral out of control, especially with the advent of today’s social media.

The two people giving this story the most legs are Paulick and horse racing advocate Andy Asaro. Both are active on Twitter. Also, Paulick has his website, and Asaro blasts out scores of emails to a lengthy list. Thus, instead of the story going away, it is gaining traction.

Baffert, in my opinion, has not handled this well. In the words of Mark Twain, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” People seeking the truth are not his enemies. They are only messengers.

Baffert made it personal on TVG last Friday after a remarkable comeback win by Paynter. In a postrace dig at Paulick, Baffert added, “Paynter says put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

The fact that Paulick is a recovering addict made the wisecrack a low blow.

Baffert also has assailed Asaro by calling him “Bankrupt Andy” on Twitter.

In Baffert’s defense, you are innocent until proved guilty in this country. He has stated he’s done everything within his power to get to the bottom of this.

Also, the CHRB, while still seeking answers to the sudden deaths, staunchly has supported Baffert.

And, importantly, Baffert’s owners have stuck by him. If anyone has something to lose, it is the horse owners who pay the bills. Loyalty goes both ways, and they are sticking by him.

This crisis involves 36 sudden horse deaths, not just the seven from Baffert’s barn. Dr. Rick Arthur of the CHRB has called it a statistical anomaly, but we don’t know for sure.

If Baffert believes he is being unfairly persecuted, he has forgotten about last spring. Fellow trainer Doug O’Neill, during the Triple Crown, came under 100 times more scrutiny for past drug violations and horse deaths.

O’Neill’s interviews often started with questions about I’ll Have Another but typically veered into the dark side. He handled them professionally and did not duck the tough questions.

Include the social media venues such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and the Internet gives everyone a voice. The number of followers determines the volume. Thus, no fires are small anymore.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.