Santa Anita Park was concluding its autumn racing meet Sunday, one day after the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic was tarnished by yet another death at the track, the fifth horse to die during the 23-day fall meet, and the 37th since December.
The death of Mongolian Groom, a 4-year-old gelding, from an injury suffered during Saturday’s final race, caused a broad range of animal rights activists to intensify their call for reform of the sport — with one group going even further.
“Ignore everything else you’ve heard and read about `safety and horseracing.’ Here’s all you need to know: If they can’t prevent a kill at this track, on this day — with the whole world watching and vigilance … at an all-time high — they can’t prevent, at least not in any meaningful way, kills period,” said Patrick Battuello of Horseracing Wrongs, a New York-based group that advocates for a nationwide ban on horse racing. “It’s inherent to what they do. And it must end.”
The group organized a vigil outside Santa Anita on Sunday for the 37 horses who lost their lives at the track since Dec. 26.
“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,” according to a statement from Breeders’ Cup Ltd., which operates the two-day event, an annual series of Grade I thoroughbred races.
“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,” the statement continued. “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 world-renowned veterinarian, Dr. Larry Bramlage, to conduct an independent evaluation, the results of which will be published when completed.”
Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent out a video of the race Sunday, which according to the group depicts Mongolian Groom being whipped by jockey Abel Cedillo just as he was about to suffer his fatal injury.
“Mongolian Groom’s life ended with a beating and a broken leg,” a PETA statement said. “Today, PETA is releasing exclusive, extensive video footage of the horse’s breakdown and making these demands: Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey must conduct an independent criminal investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of Mongolian Groom, and she must release her findings on the deaths of the other horses. Her foot-dragging is costing horses’ lives. Veterinarian Larry Bramlage, who makes his living in the industry, must stand down. He is the `green screen’ to racing’s abusive practices.
“Mongolian Groom was whipped as he came around the final turn — so even if he was in pain and wanted to slow down, he could not have done so. Striking horses during racing must be banned now. We can’t wait for the rule-making process when horses are dying.
“If the racing industry and state officials truly want to save horses’ lives, they will suspend trainers and veterinarians of horses who die pending full investigations, install safer synthetic surfaces and CT scan equipment at all tracks, and ban all drugs in the two weeks before a race, including Lasix and phenylbutazone. All racing nationwide must be suspended until these measures are put in place. Any reluctance to do so will lead to more deaths and the self-destruction of horse racing.”
Lacey created a task force in April of what she described as “experienced deputy district attorneys and sworn peace officers with varied expertise within my office” to “thoroughly investigate and evaluate the evidence to determine whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses at Santa Anita Park.”
Asked specifically about PETA’s whipping allegation, Mike Willman, director of publicity for Santa Anita, said track officials had “no comment at this time on Mongolian Groom beyond the statement that was issued last night by Breeders’ Cup Ltd.”
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement on Sunday that the death of Mongolian Groom “and the shockingly routine deaths of horses at the Santa Anita Park racetrack are a foreboding reminder that horseracing is a poorly regulated industry in urgent need of reform. American horseracing is broken and its equine athletes are paying the price with their lives. The decision to hold the Breeder’s Cup at Santa Anita before the results of investigations into the spate of recent deaths was ill advised.
“We believe that a suspension of racing at this track is warranted until the investigations of those deaths, and now the death of Mongolian Groom, are completed and released.”
As mandated by the California Horse Racing Board, Mongolian Groom will undergo a necropsy at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
His death came in the 14th and final race of the otherwise injury-free two-day $28 million Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which was held for a record 10th time at Santa Anita.
Mongolian Groom won three times in 17 career starts, finished second twice and third three times, earning $579,141. He won his final start before the Breeders’ Cup, the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes Sept. 28 at Santa Anita.
Breeders’ Cup CEO and President Craig Fravel said Wednesday that “everything humanly possible” was done to try to prevent horses from being injured during the event.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, sent a letter to Rick Baedeker, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, on Wednesday, writing that the Breeders’ Cup “presents a critical test for the future of horse racing in California and in the United States.”
“If horse racing cannot 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,” Feinstein wrote.
Last Sunday, Bye Bye Beautiful, a 2-year-old filly making just her second career start, suffered a foreleg injury less than a half-mile from the wire in the third race and was euthanized. Before that, the 5-year-old gelding Ky. Colonel collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack jogging on the inner training track Oct. 6. Satchel Paige, a 3-year-old gelding, was euthanized after breaking his left front ankle during a race Oct. 19. And on Oct. 25, a 6-year-old mare named GQ Covergirl injured her front two legs while running on the training track and was euthanized.
The CHRB announced last week it will issue a report in December on the racing and training fatalities during Santa Anita Park’s winter/spring seasons that could provide strategies to avoid similar equine injuries.
Veterinary personal, safety stewards and others involved in track safety have been accumulating and analyzing the information to come to an understanding of how each death occurred in order to identify any common characteristics or causes and develop strategies for preventing similar injuries in the future, according to Mike Marten, the public information officer for the board.
Board investigators have issued more than 120 subpoenas for records and are continuing to review all cases for any CHRB rule or criminal violations, Marten said.
Santa Anita — and the sport in general — has been under heavy scrutiny since the rash of deaths started garnering more media attention this year than in seasons past.
Racing at Santa Anita was halted for most of March while examinations were conducted on the track. They resumed April 4 after the state horse-racing board approved a series of safety measures and The Stronach Group announced a series of steps aimed at bolstering the safety of horses at the track, including restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get advance permission before putting a horse through a workout and investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
The Stronach Group and the California Horse Racing Board also created a “safety review team” that evaluates all horses at the track. The panel of veterinarians and stewards has the authority to scratch a horse from a race if even one panelist questions the animal’s fitness.
The Stronach Group also announced a seven-member veterinary inspection team for the autumn meet. The team will “oversee every aspect of Santa Anita’s training and racing operation,” a company official said.
After Sunday’s racing, Santa Anita has no races scheduled until Dec. 26.