As we prepare to close the book on 2019, it's time for our traditional look back on the most popular stories of the year by traffic. We've done this for four years now (see previous editions of 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018).
It's no secret that 2019 was a tough year for horse racing, and no surprise that the stories you read reflected this. Perhaps surprisingly though, you were as interested (or even moreso) in analysis of the events unfolding – the story behind the story – than the news items themselves. Here at the Paulick Report we're taking that as a compliment and use it as a guidepost toward our future content.
- 'You Blew It': Veterinarian Allday Tells Radio Host Breeders' Cup Made A Mistake With Mongolian Groom: By the time Dr. Steve Allday was interviewed by radio host Steve Byk, concerns had surfaced about the condition of Breeders' Cup Classic contestant Mongolian Groom before the race. A description of Allday's candid frustration on Byk's At The Races radio program was far and away our most read story of the year, but several Mongolian Groom stories made it into the top ten.
Mongolian Groom entered the Classic as a longshot and pulled up with multiple fractures in his left hind leg at the top of the Santa Anita stretch. He was later euthanized after veterinarians determined those injuries could not be repaired. In the hours and days after the race, videos on social media and XBTV attracted attention, as they appeared to show the horse taking uneven steps off the left hind during morning training throughout the week. The Breeders' Cup, which had a team of 30 veterinarians on site to augment the pre-race exam process, has declined to provide details on the horse's exam history or specify whether he had been flagged by veterinarians. The California Horse Racing Board also declined to comment.
Since then, Breeders' Cup officials have announced that an investigation into the horse's death is being conducted by Dr. Larry Bramlage. No timeline has been given for the investigation's completion.
- 'Willing To Put My Money Where My Mouth Is': West Issues $20 Million Challenge To Four Derby Runners: Just when you thought the story of this year's Kentucky Derby couldn't get any crazier, Maximum Security owner Gary West, still furious over his horse's disqualification from the race, issued a challenge to the owners of Country House, War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress: race Maximum Security and get $5 million if you finish in front of the West colt; pay $5 million if Maximum Security finishes ahead. (The horses did not face each other again.) The announcement, which was released the day before War of Will won the Preakness, was the only thing that generated more discussion than the Derby DQ itself.
Everyone – even the President – weighed in on whether Maximum Security's move at the top of the lane at Churchill Downs should have cost him the race. Bob Baffert expressed dismay at the mere idea of lodging an objection in the Derby, which is famous for rough traffic at the start and in the first turn. Readers took a look at one video angle after another and repeatedly weighed in with comments.
Ultimately, a lawsuit from West against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission over the disqualification was dismissed by a federal judge in November. West vowed to appeal. Meanwhile, discussion over the incident focused not just on whether Maximum Security should have been disqualified but whether the rules the stewards followed were fair, prompting a broader discussion about how interference rules in the U.S. compare with those in other racing jurisdictions.
- Two Horses Die, Rider Escapes Serious Injury In Head-On Training Collision At Del Mar: Del Mar's summer meet closed with no racing fatalities, but the track did see one freak accident during morning training. Three horses were working in company from the starting gate when another horse wheeled, lost its rider, and began running the wrong way. The unraced 2-year-old named Charge a Bunch collided head-on with 3-year-old Carson Valley, killing both horses on impact. Rider Assael Espinoza escaped serious injury and was back at work in short order.
- 'I Can't Carry You Any More'; Rodriguez Looks To Sell Zayat Horses Over Unpaid Bills: Trainer Rudy Rodriguez filed a lien on two horses belonging to Eclipse Award-winning owner Zayat Stables after he said he had been unsuccessful getting owner Ahmed Zayat to pay his bills. The two horses – stakes winners Lezendary and Majid – were scheduled to be auctioned Nov. 1. A follow-up article from the Thoroughbred Daily News stated the two sides reached an agreement and the foreclosure auction was cancelled. Lezendary eventually showed up at Keeneland November, where she was a $70,000 RNA. Majid remains in the Rudy Rodriguez barn, but according to a chart from a starter allowance at Aqueduct on Dec. 15, is now owned by Repole Stable.
- Leading Quarter Horse Trainer S. Trey Wood Summarily Suspended: Although the Paulick Report is primarily focused on Thoroughbred racing, occasional stories on the goings-on in the Quarter Horse world seem to get a lot of attention. The suspension of S. Trey Wood earlier this year was no exception. Wood's runner Gold Heart Eagle V tested positive for albuterol after winning the fourth race at Ruidoso Downs Jul. 27, prompting New Mexico Racing Commission stewards to issue a summary suspension that saw 31 Wood horses scratched from time trials for the All American Futurity.
The very next day however, the commission decided to approve the transfer of horses from Wood's barn to other trainers, allowing those horses to compete in the time trials. Mister Riptide, a former Wood trainee, finished second in the All American Futurity, bringing home a $450,000 check.
- Meet The Former Jockey Who Caught Bodexpress After A Wild Preakness: War Of Will may have won this year's Preakness, but the horse everyone came away talking about was Bodexpress, who flung Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez at the start of the race and ran with the field for the entire contest, finished the gallop out, and turned around, barreling through a throng of photographers and grooms on the dirt track. Outriders made several bids to catch him, but in the end it was jockey-turned-outrider Kaymarie Kreidel who snagged him just in time to prevent disaster, as he began running back toward Preakness contenders.
Kreidel credited her Off-Track Thoroughbred Hunter with the catch.
“They love it – these ponies, once they learn this job, they love it. It's just like being a racehorse – they take pride in winning a race, and these guys take pride in catching a horse,” said Kreidel minutes after the big catch.
- Hall Of Famer Hollendorfer Told To Vacate Stalls At Santa Anita, Golden Gate: The legal saga of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was a point of much discussion and concern among our readers. The California trainer was told by The Stronach Group he would no longer be granted stalls or entries at the company's racetracks after the death of American Currency following a workout in June. The horse was Hollendorfer's fourth to suffer a fatal injury during the now-infamous spike of equine fatalities at Santa Anita in 2019. Del Mar would later adopt the same policy, and Hollendorfer brought legal action against both racetracks. A San Diego judge granted an injunction requested by Hollendorfer at Del Mar, but his legal case against Santa Anita has not gone as well for him so far. The trainer plans to spend the winter at Oaklawn Park.
Although initial explanations for the ban were somewhat vague, documents filed in court by The Stronach Group indicated the company had the trainer under increased surveillance a month before banning him. The filings included information that track veterinarians believed Hollendorfer to have demonstrated negligence, and that he asked a veterinarian to sign a form to work a horse off the vet's list and threatened the veterinarian if the person didn't cooperate. Hollendorfer's legal counsel denied the allegations. His court battle is ongoing.
- Hall Of Fame Jockey Randy Romero In Hospice Care: Readers paused this June to reflect on the career of jockey Randy Romero, who had been battling cancer since 2015. Romero, who rode top fillies and mares like Personal Ensign, Go For Wand, Housebuster, Risen Star, Seeking the Gold, Hansel, and two-time Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Sacahuista, had faced a number of health challenges throughout his career. He estimated he had broken 25 bones and undergone 30 injury-related surgeries, in addition to serious burns from a freak accident at Oaklawn in 1983. A blood transfusion left him with Hepatitis C, resulting in damage to his liver and kidneys.
Romero died in August at the age of 61. He won 342 stakes and riding titles at 10 different tracks. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2010.
- Bramlage: 'Price To Pay' For Bisphosphonate Use Is Delayed Healing: This article from early 2018 continues to get traffic as one of the early red flags about the dangers of bisphosphonate use in young horses. At the time, Bramlage worried the drug, which is FDA approved to treat navicular pain in older horses, could interfere with the growth or bone repair cycle in younger animals. Bramlage did not see the spike in acute fractures he'd expected when the drugs were first approved in the United States, but he did see fractures with extraordinarily slow healing times in young horses, which he attributed to bisphosphonate use.
Bramlage said in early March of this year that increased discussion about the drug throughout last year had reduced the number of delayed healing cases he saw. He also said it's unlikely bisphosphonate use could account for the spike in Santa Anita fatalities last spring, since it would be unlikely the drug's use would be limited to California.
Since this piece was published, a number of veterinarians, breeders, and trainers have voiced their concern about bisphosphonates, and a number of racing authorities and sales companies have banned off-label use. However, testing technology still cannot find the drug any longer than 30 days out, and some scientists suspect it could live in bone for months, or even years. Veterinarians say bisphosphonates work well in the population they're intended for – mature horses with light to moderate workloads – but much of the potential risk and long-term impacts in young Thoroughbreds remains unknown.
- 'A Gun To Our Heads': California Trainers Struggle With What Lies Ahead: In the aftermath of the death of Mongolian Groom after the Breeders' Cup Classic, anxieties within the racing community deepened – especially in Southern California, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued a challenge to the sport before the Breeders' Cup to keep the races fatality-free. On the Sunday after the Breeders' Cup, the trainers who called Santa Anita home voiced concern and determination for the sport's future.
Since then, trainer Anna Meah has moved her horses out of the state, rider Kent Desormeaux has chosen to winter in Louisiana, Peter Miller has begun basing part of this stable in Kentucky, and trainer Doug O'Neill has sent a greater number of runners to Dubai.
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