Breeders’ Cup 10th Santa Anita Visit Overshadowed by Another Equine Death

70,000 attended Saturday’s event

By Terry Miller

Horse lovers came from all over the world to witness the “World Series” of Horse Racing in Arcadia this past weekend. Ladies donned their finest and most outrageous, colorful and enormous hats and the gentlemen donned elegant attire depicting a time gone-by. This, after all, is America’s answer to that ever-so-proper British horse championship and Royal racing event, Ascot.

The weather was perfect, blue skies and puffy white clouds covered the San Gabriel Mountain backdrop to the storied race track. Attendance was good, very good despite this year’s negative publicity towards the sport especially after so many equine deaths at Santa Anita this past meet.

The 10th time Breeders’ Cup proved sweet for most but truly bitter and sad for the ailing industry in general at the end of the final Classic race.

During the Breeders’ Cup Sprint race, the Eclipse Award winner chased down Shancelot while finishing six furlongs in 1:09 under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. The excitement continued to build throughout the next several races.

The last of the two-day world championships in which 13 other Cup races ran without noticeable or newsworthy injury was the Classic.

Mongolian Groom was part of the early pace in the 1¼-mile race, but jockey Abel Cedillo pulled up the 4-year-old gelding near the eighth pole as the rest of the field charged toward the finish line.

“Mongolian Groom visibly bobbled and slowed. Jockey Abel Cedillo snatched up the reins to stop the horse, a clear sign that Mongolian Groom was injured. Replays showed Mongolian Groom’s left hind leg swinging grotesquely, indicative of a very serious injury,” according to track officials.

The horses in front of Mongolian Groom pulled away. Those behind him swiftly passed. The crowd continued to roar, as Vino Rosso overtook McKinzie to win the $6 million race. It seemed an eternity before anyone realized there was an injury in the final race.

Breeders’ Cup Ltd. issued the following statement a couple of hours after the final race: “Mongolian Groom sustained an injury in the Breeders’ Cup Classic today and was immediately attended to by an expert team of veterinarians, led by board certified veterinary surgeon Dr. Ryan Carpenter. During their evaluation at the equine hospital at Santa Anita, they observed a serious fracture to his left hind limb. Radiographs were taken and a complete evaluation was performed. Given the extent of the injury, Dr. Carpenter, in consultation with Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, veterinary surgeon and professor emeritus at Colorado State University, Dr. Rick Arthur, Equine Medical Director of the California Horse Racing Board, and attending veterinarian Dr. Vince Baker, recommended humane euthanasia of Mongolian Groom.

“The death of Mongolian Groom is a loss to the entire horse racing community. Our equine and human athletes’ safety is the Breeders’ Cup’s top priority. We have worked closely with Santa Anita leading up to the World Championships to promote enhanced equine safety. Santa Anita has implemented numerous industry-leading reforms to enhance the existing health and safety measures with the intent of providing a safe racing environment. In addition, Breeders’ Cup always observes the most thorough up-to-date medication practices and restrictions, testing protocols, equine security and surveillance program, veterinary exams, injury management protocols and racing surface testing. These measures are in place to ensure our athletes are racing under the safest and most transparent conditions possible.

“Breeders’ Cup has engaged veterinarian, Dr. Larry Bramlage, to conduct an independent evaluation, the results of which will be published when completed. We will continue to keep all stakeholders apprised as information becomes available. We are committed to working with our partners in the industry to continue to advance safety reforms, with the well-being of our athletes in mind.”

Earlier in the day, protesters angered by the previous 36 deaths since December stood outside Santa Anita toting signs urging the end of the sport in California. A short distance away, industry workers feeling pressured by the prospect of losing their jobs rallied to promote racing.

The former Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden moments after the Classic, the final race, tweeted: “The perspective on Mongolian Groom’s injury is obvious, but worth stating: Only a two-day sample, but the Breeders’ Cup was approximately a furlong from completing its races without an injury. That furlong might define the event, and for a while, the sport.”

Santa Anita opens its winter-spring meet on Dec. 26.

November 7, 2019

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Terry Miller

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