If you're looking for details on the veterinary exam history of Breeders' Cup Classic runner Mongolian Groom, who was fatally injured in the Santa Anita stretch on Nov. 2, you're not going to get them any time soon.
The horse, who suffered multiple fractures of the lower part of his left hind cannon and upper pastern, participated in the Breeders' Cup at the Arcadia, Calif., racetrack the same year the organization touted its pre-race veterinary protocols as being its toughest yet. 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.
The Paulick Report has reached out to the three entities in charge of regulation at last weekend's event – the Breeders' Cup, The Stronach Group, and the CHRB – with questions about Mongolian Groom's participation in pre-race screening.
The Stronach Group referred all questions to The Breeders' Cup.
The Breeders' Cup, which earlier this year retained the Glover Park Group for crisis management, declined comment, saying it was standing by the statement released Saturday night. That statement, which prompted much criticism on social media, did not provide 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. The organization has been in transition throughout the last week as former CEO Craig Fravel was hired by The Stronach Group and departed his Breeders' Cup role over the weekend. The promotion of Drew Fleming into Fravel's position was announced Nov. 5.
That information is of particular interest in light of workout videos of Mongolian Groom taken before the Classic. 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.
Shorter videos tweeted out by reporters monitoring Breeders' Cup workers hinted at a potential issue, but were not as revealing as videos showing his complete Oct. 31 and Oct. 26 jogs:
— Meredith Daugherty (@BH_MDaugherty) October 26, 2019
— Claire (Novak) Crosby (@BH_CCrosby) October 27, 2019
Shortly after his fatal breakdown, XBTV.com, an entity owned and operated by The Stronach Group, removed the entire archive of Mongolian Groom's workout videos from its website. Other contenders' videos remained posted. Mongolian Groom's videos reappeared late the following day.
“The XBTV situation was based on an abundance of caution,” stated XBTV's Amy Zimmerman on Nov. 4. “We have experienced previously, that news media (mostly non-racing) have accessed the XBTV video library to use that as a resource to use it as b-roll to fill out their news stories. The workouts were pulled [within] the first hour of the accident, but were fully restored yesterday.”
When asked whether the horse's movement had any impact on the decision to pull those videos, Zimmerman declined comment, stating that there were ongoing inquiries into the situation.
Mongolian Groom did have a few entries on the CHRB veterinarian's list, including an entry on March 18, 2018, for an injury and two on Aug. 2 and Oct. 19 of this year for medication use with a five-day restriction on entry. It's unclear however, whether those had any bearing or relationship to his eventual injury. A number of other Breeders' Cup runners were also put on the list around the same time with the same notation and subsequently raced with no problems.
According to CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur, the injury last year was a shoulder laceration. Although Arthur declined to say which medication Mongolian Groom had received on Oct. 19, he pointed out that new regulations require reporting of all intra-articular injections (including that of non-analgesic substances – regenerative therapeutic ingredients like platelet-rich plasma, or joint protectants like Legend or Adequan). All substances, if given in the joint, trigger five days on the veterinarian's list.
Stronach Group house policies do not permit racing within 14 days of intra-articular corticosteroid injection.
Arthur declined to say whether CHRB veterinarians raised any concerns about the horse's soundness in the days leading up to the Breeders' Cup Classic, or whether the CHRB vet team had noted any history of asymmetrical hind end movement in the horse before.
“All horses at Santa Anita were under veterinary observation during training,” said Arthur. “There were three to four vets on track every day, in addition to those conducting examinations in the stables.”
Arthur said the death of Mongolian Groom will be investigated by CHRB enforcement officers. Further information release is unlikely until that investigation is completed.
The Breeders' Cup, in its statement the night of Mongolian Groom's fatal injury, said renowned equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage will conduct an independent evaluation into the horse's death. The Breeders' Cup did not respond to a question clarifying the nature or scope of Bramlage's evaluation.
No timeline has been provided for such an evaluation.
The North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians released the following statement about Breeders' Cup veterinary procedures and other welfare protocols on Nov. 5:
We at the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians (NAARV) applaud the recent efforts of the California regulatory panel in its effort to improve the safety of the Breeders' Cup and its equine participants. We believe the panel needs to continue evaluating its pre-race protocol specifically to more carefully scrutinize horses both live and by video. The NAARV suggest and propose the use of inertial sensor (Lameness Locator) stride evaluation for data collection and lameness identification in addition to the existing pre-race examination. This technology is easy to use and would require minimal training of personnel. The advantage of this technology is that it provides an objective evaluation of a horse's gait, thereby eliminating finger pointing and blame surrounding an unsound horse. The NAARV believe that the implementation of this technology is currently the best idea going forward in the effort to improve the scrutiny of the soundness of the equine athlete.
The NAARV also strongly support the research at UC Davis of the advanced technology of Standing PET (Positron Emissions Tomography) scans for examining the equine athlete. The NAARV was privileged and fortunate enough to be the first organization to be introduced to the technology from UC Davis Associate Professor, Mathieu Spriet, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVR, Dipl. ECVDI at their Sixth Annual Meeting & Symposium following the Breeders' Cup in Pasadena, California. While PET scans are far from being applied clinically at the racetrack, we applaud The Stronach Group for their willingness to embrace this technology.
Currently within the racing community, continuing education is required for all veterinarians and stewards in order to maintain their accreditation to apply their respective trades. The NAARV believes that CE should be created and should be required for trainers to similarly retain their credentials. NAARV supports racing rules that foster the optimal safety of the racehorse, the safety of their jockeys and the longevity of the horse business in North America.
We advocate for claiming rules that make racing safer. We support allowing for the return of unsound claimed horses to their previous owner(s), as well as waivers for horses unable to start within six months of a claim. We support the increase of the bottom claiming prices. Horses are valuable and should be treated as such. While the cost of producing and training a racehorse has gone up exponentially, claiming prices have gone down. This is an unsustainable model for both the horse and owner.
We also support changes to maiden races to allow horses to compete at different class levels without racing for a claiming tag (e.g. MSW/MDN II/MDN III—stratified by purse thereby eliminating the need for maiden claiming races). We advocate for the expanded use of technology in the racing office to categorize horses by their conditions, thereby giving racing secretaries the ability to write races that fit the available population of horses. We believe these changes can make racing safer by keeping horses in their proper company. NAARV believes that putting the health and welfare of the horse first is the key to the vitality of the entire horse business.
Natalie Voss is Eclipse Award-winning features editor of the Paulick Report
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