The Santa Anita Conundrum Continues

Mongolian Groom

The death of Mongolian Groom from a catastrophic injury sustained during the Breeders’ Cup Classic has put Santa Anita under the microscope again. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)  had already issued a warning to Santa Anita earlier in the week that if there is another fatality, its days were numbered and the tragedy in the final race of the day has left fans reeling.

Certainly, Santa Anita had put in place extra precautions leading up to the Breeders’ Cup meet, making it’s pre-race protocols the toughest yet. Several horses were scratched from races because of concerns. According to the Paulick Report:

A team of 30 veterinarians were tasked with performing far more soundness exams on each horse than had ever been done before. Between Breeders’ Cup, The Stronach Group, and the California Horse Racing Board, the Paulick Report was told each horse would be examined a minimum of five times in advance of its race. Horses with any cause for concern would be subject to extra examinations.

That statement brings it’s own questions. Pre-race videos posted on of Mongolian Groom seem to indicate a pre-existing lameness behind. These two videos show the gelding jogging on the track (note that the galloping workouts look okay). The video from October 31, at least to my eyes, shows a horse that is “trantering” (trotting but breaking into a canter) but also taking some bad steps. The video from October 26th looks more serious. It shows a horse trotting with a visible unevenness behind.

Keep in mind that “soundness” for race horses is slightly different than for sport horses. There are very successful racehorses that look “hitchy” to us but which are sound despite an anomoly in their gaits. I have no idea whether this is true for Mongolian Groom, but The Paulick Report also states, “Multiple veterinary sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity say videos shot throughout the week appear to show the horse favoring his left hind leg at the trot.”

The Stronach Group has not yet provided details on the number of exams Mongolian Groom underwent prior to Saturday’s races or whether any of those exams called for further diagnostics on the horse’s left hind limb, where he sustained the fractures.

Compared to his competitors, Mongolian Groom is described as being “heavily campaigned,” with 11 starts in 2019, six of them grade 1 races. In comparison, Vino Rosso had six starts; McKinzie had seven starts; and Bricks and Mortar (who won the dirt mile) had six starts. How much of a difference did this race schedule make to his overall soundness? In years gone by, 11 starts was not considered excessive. Seabiscuit raced 35 times as a 2-year old and 28 times as a 3-year old. But times have changed. Looking back at past Breeders’ Cup classic winners, it’s hard to find one that raced more than a dozen times — total. Even the great Cigar, with 33 lifetime starts, only raced 11 times in his busiest year.

Certainly, it is time for racing to make more changes. There is a call to ban whips as well as cracking down on race-day drugs. More studies need to be done on the safety of track surfaces and we need to take a good hard look at an industry that favors early speed over endurance and longevity.


3 thoughts on “The Santa Anita Conundrum Continues

  1. I see it. In both videos. Now is this a pre-concieved vision because I know what happened, and saw the hock give way during the race? Maybe-but I’d been watching M. Groom during the race because he was one of the three I wanted to win. Notice in the 26 Oct video, he’ you note..obviously off in the back. He’s also sticking his tongue out, several times. In the first video there is no tongue sticking, but every time he took a bad step, he threw his head up. To me, these are signs of distress, if not pain.

    But…I don’t remember seeing it on TV during the post parade. This is due to NBC’s refusal to spend any more air time on the actual horse than is absolutly necessary. YOu get one good look at the horse as he passes the one camera for the post parade, and then you get fifteen minutes of people (and ads).
    I’m not surprised that Santa Anita is blaming the horse. YOu can throw a hundred vets at the horses, but if it’s the effing TRACK, all the vets in the world won’t keep a horse from breaking down.

    And…let’s be honest. The horse was owned by Mongolians. These people, born to ride, ride tough little Mongolian ponies. They’re ridden hard but not often, live almost wild for most of their life, aren’t even shod, because of hooves like rocks, and aren’t bred purposefully for racing. They’re riding horses, nothing more. It may be the owners, accustomed to their ponies being iron horses, think of TB’s as being just the same. It may be, someone said to them, I don’t like the look of that left hock, and were told, it’s fine.

    When you think that TB’s bred for the steeplechase have to run miles, or like the relatively burly Argentinian TB’s I met years ago, bred for polo; when warmbloods can event for days…it tells you the racing industry cares nothing but to make money.
    And, as you note, today’s TB’s are so fragile. Bred for speed, not stamina, bred to go fast at the cost of: skin thickness, feet, endurance, wind, temper and mind. They’re throwaways, honestly. What a damned shame.

  2. TBs are not what they used to be. Much less bone, much less endurance. Unfortunately, this was a perfect storm.

    I’ve seen a number of OTTBs who were a bit hitchy (but stayed sound). I did watch several of the other jog videos that were on the site and didn’t see a single other horse that looked off the way MG did. In fact Vino Rosso is a damn nice mover.

  3. He is, that. He looked very nice. It was a good race, if you can put aside MG’s breakdown. I am sort of happy Baffert’s horse didn’t win, although he came close. I dislike Baffert intensely, having heard a lot of shedrow gossip about what an arrogant asshole he was, and actually seeing it once when he didn’t know the cameras were rolling. But he seems to have mellowed with age. I wanted the filly to at least place, and I have always like Shug McGauhey, I usually root for his horses.

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