It appeared that Santa Anita had a safe Breeders’ Cup, but in the last race, at the top of the stretch, Mongolian Groom was pulled up in distress. He suffered a life-ending injury to his left-hind leg and was euthanized on Saturday. It was the 37th death at Santa Anita since Dec. 30 and will raise the temperature even higher on the track with one day remaining in the meeting.
It was the seventh death in the abbreviated fall meeting. Last year, there were four in the same time span.
Most in the crowd of 67,811 were focused on the front of the race where Vino Rosso and McKinzie were fighting for the lead in the $6 million Classic, the marquee event of the two-day event. Vino Rosso won the Classic by 4 ¼ lengths over McKinzie.
Mongolian Groom was in third place when he was injured. Both jockeys in front of him looked back as if they had heard something when Mongolian Groom started to be pulled up.
“Given the extent of the injury, Dr. [Ryan] Carpenter, in consultation with Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, veterinary surgeon … Dr. Rick Arthur, Equine Medical Director of the California Horse Racing Board and attending veterinarian Dr. Vince Baker, recommended humane euthanasia of Mongolian Groom,” according to a statement from the Breeders’ Cup.
The Breeders’ Cup will have Dr. Larry Bramlage, a world-renowned veterinarian at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., conduct an independent investigation. As is standard, a necropsy will be conducted at UC Davis.
The owners of the 4-year-old gelding started thinking about putting the horse in the Classic after he won the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 28. The race was a win-and-you’re-in for horses that were eligible through the Breeders’ Cup nominating process. Mongolian Groom was not one of those horses. He ran under the Mongolian Stables banner, who paid a $200,000 supplemental fee to get him in the race.
Mongolian Groom was the second Grade 1 winner to die at Santa Anita this year. Battle of Midway, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in 2017, died in a workout on Feb. 23, the 18th death since Dec. 30. The track was shut down on March 5 after the 21st death and reopened on March 29.
Mongolian Groom was bought in April 2017 for $12,000 at the Ocala (Fla.) Breeders Sale. He had won three of 16 races prior to Saturday and had been running at a high level. He was third in the Santa Anita Handicap, fourth in the Gold Cup and third in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. All are Grade 1 races.
The deaths at Santa Anita were of such concern that the Breeders’ Cup discussed moving the event but in late June voted unanimously to keep the event in Arcadia.
It was the second death in the Classic, the first coming at Monmouth on Oct. 27, 2007 when George Washington was euthanized. The last three Breeders’ Cup deaths have occurred at Santa Anita, which was hosting the event for a record 10th time.
On Nov. 6, 2013, Secret Compass died after breaking down in the Juvenile Fillies and Corona del Inca died on Nov. 4, 2016 in the Distaff.
On Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the California Horse Racing Board saying, “If horse racing can not be conducted in a safe and humane manner that protects the life and safety of horses and jockeys, it may be time to reexamine the future of this sport in our state and in our country.”
At the post-race news conference with winning trainer Todd Pletcher, he said, “It’s something that I think we were all concerned about coming in. We’re not only anxious, not only for running like these, but hoping that everything would go safely and smoothly. I think everyone took every precautionary measure they possibly could.”
Santa Anita announced a series of medication reforms and veterinary protocols in March that was designed to make Santa Anita the safest track in the country. The Breeders’ Cup adopted all those policies and put in place a system whereby horses were examined at least four times before race day and then watched at every phase of activity on race day. There were 30 veterinarians on site on Friday and Saturday.
Mongolian Groom broke slowly but quickly went to the second position following War Of Will. By the three-quarters mark of the 1¼-mile race, he had slipped to third behind War Of Will and McKinzie. Entering the stretch jockey Abel Cedillo pulled him up as all the other horses passed him. He remained upright.
Vino Rosso had been making his move and had gone three wide and drew even with McKinzie as War of Will started to back up after a mile. Vino Rosso put his head in front at about the eighth pole and then drew clear in deep stretch. McKinzie was second followed by Higher Power and Elate.
It was third win of the day for jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Racing must now try to figure out where to go from here. Santa Anita had hoped for a safe meeting that would lower the scrutiny while at the same time build public confidence. After Sunday, racing moves to Del Mar and then Los Alamitos . Racing returns to Santa Anita on Dec. 26, for a seven-month meeting.