Tokyo (AFP) - Japanese champion racehorse Deep Impact, one of the country's most successful racers and a leading international sire, has been euthanised after a spine injury.
The former international star was put down on Tuesday at the age of 17 after being diagnosed with a cervical spine fracture from which he could not recover, the stud farm where he was based said.
He had already undergone surgery for neck pain, but additional x-rays revealed the serious injury.
The stud farm operator Shadai Stallion Station said they were "extremely heartbroken because of the sudden turn of events".
The horse debuted in 2004 and won 12 of his 14 career starts. He was inducted into the Japan Racing Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
But his career was not without controversy: in 2006 he placed third in Europe's most prestigious race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but was subsequently disqualified for failing a drugs test.
Yutaka Take, who regularly rode Deep Impact to victory, said in a statement he was so shocked by the death that he cancelled a trip and went straight to the stud farm to pay his respects.
"I put my hands together (in prayer) in front of an empty stall without its owner," he said in a statement.
"He was truly a special horse to me. Only I know how he ran like he was flying in the sky. I told him, 'Thank you'."