By Richard Rosenblatt
A report issued on the fatal breakdown of Mongolian Groom in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic says the death could have been prevented if additional safety measures to detect lameness had been in effect.
The 25-page report released Wednesday was commissioned by the Breeders’ Cup following the fatal injury — a serious fracture of the left hind leg — that occurred when Mongolian Groom was racing in third place entering the stretch run on Saturday, Nov. 2.
The evaluation headed by Dr. Larry Bramlage, the equine veterinarian at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, states “it is hard to fault a process that had a 99.6 percent accuracy rate, but there were opportunities to remove Mongolian Groom from competition that were missed due to time constraints or process deficiencies that could be made more prominent.”
While The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, initiated new safety protocols leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, and scrutiny of the track surface and horse health was increased, “there were indeed lesions in both hind distal cannon bones,’’ the report said of Mongolian Groom, a 4-year-old gelding. Prior to the 14-race, two-day Breeders’ Cup, there had been an unusually high rate of equine deaths at Santa Anita in 2019.
Bramlage wrote that “bilaterally lame horses are most problematic.
“Unilaterally lame horses are easier to identify and to pass judgment on. In my opinion, the key opportunities for process improvement are to improve the quality of the on-track observations and to introduce the ability to jog horses in need of ‘extra scrutiny’ in circles at some safe location on the back side of the racetrack.”
The report also stated that in the two weeks before the Breeders’ Cup, “Mongolian Groom appeared to be slightly lame on the RH on one exam, and choppy behind on five exams. His hind limbs were flexed and he showed no overt lameness after flexion in either hind limb before the race.”
Mongolian Groom, whose owners paid a $200,000 supplemental entry fee to get into the BC Classic, came into the race as the long shot winner of the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita on Sept. 28.
During Breeders’ Cup week, Bramlage said Mongolian Groom was among 24 horses on a watch list for increased observation. Of those, eight were disqualified from competition.
Bramlage also found there was “no reason to believe medication played any role in the horse’s injury.”
Six measures the Breeders’ Cup could undertake in order to better assess horses for lameness are listed in the report.
- Pre-identify horses before arrival which have historic indications of concerns that need to be investigated.
- Concentrate the responsibility for individual horse examinations. In Mongolian Groom’s case, seven vets (not including the attending vet) looked at the horse a total of 10 times.
- Improve the quality of the on-track observation opportunity.
- Create an area somewhere in the barn area where the vets could observe the horses on the “extra scrutiny” list jog in a circle in hand in both directions if they think necessary.
- Make diagnostic imaging, such as radiographs, nuclear scans, ultrasounds, MRI and PET scans an accepted part of the pre-race exams for selected horses.
- Take advantage of all the video footage of the competitors available before the Breeders’ Cup
Click here to read the full report
Click here to read the Breeders’ Cup statement
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.