Breeders' Cup horse euthanized at Santa Anita after breaking leg on track

Jack BaerYahoo Sports

Not even one of the biggest events in horse racing could escape the story that has consumed the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles this year.

Mongolian Groom, a 4-year-old gelding had to be euthanized after breaking his left hind leg in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday, the Breeders’ Cup announced.

“The death of Mongolian Groom is a loss to the entire horse racing community,” the statement said. “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.”

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The horse was a 15-1 longshot for the race, which was won by Vino Rosso. Another horse appeared to bump into him from behind down the stretch, at which point his jockey immediately pulled him up.

Track workers treat Mongolian Groom after the Breeders' Cup Classic horse race at Santa Anita Park. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Track workers treat Mongolian Groom after the Breeders' Cup Classic horse race at Santa Anita Park. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

37th death at Santa Anita this year

The tragic death of Mongolian Groom occurs as Santa Anita becomes a national topic in the sports world after a rash of deaths hit the track earlier this year. Activists have made numerous calls to close the track, but it has instead remained among the busiest tracks in the world.

There had previously been talk of moving the Breeders’ Cup, which moves annually among major tracks, from Santa Anita this year when the death count reached the 30s, but the Cup’s board of directors unanimously voted to keep the event at the track.

A horse death occurring in the event’s biggest race obviously makes that decision look unfortunate in hindsight. There is also little data, however, to suggest at this point that Santa Anita is significantly more dangerous than other major tracks. The occasional fatalities are simply part of horse racing.

From Yahoo Sports last month, when the 34th death occurred:

According to California Horse Racing Board data compiled by LAist, there were 44 deaths at Santa Anita last year. There were 64 the year before. And a high of 71 in 2011. The track has averaged more than 50 deaths per year in the last decade. If you think that’s a lot, well, it isn’t. And it is, because that many horses dying by unnatural causes at one place in a year really is horrifying. It’s just not a lot in the world of horse racing.

Santa Anita’s rate of 2.04 horse deaths per 1,000 starts in 2018 pales in comparison to arguably the most famous racetrack in the world: the Kentucky Derby’s Churchill Downs, where 2.7 horses die per 1,000 starts, according to data reported by the Courier Journal. Scarily enough, Churchill Downs was actually the reported alternative to Santa Anita if the Breeders’ Cup was moved.

There was a time earlier this year when Santa Anita was on pace for an enormous number of deaths, and that pace has since slowed but not stopped.

Both Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup have instituted several new measures to increase safety for horses since the earlier string of deaths captured headlines, but it will be borderline impossible to eliminate deaths in the sport. For some, that is an acceptable price for the existence of the sport.

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