Los Angeles (AFP) - An evaluation report released Wednesday on Mongolian Groom, who was euthanized after a breakdown in last November's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, found the gelding ran with a pre-existing injury.
The report by Dr. Larry Bramlage, from Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, was released by Breeders' Cup officials and showed the four-year-old had a "fine stress fracture" in the distal cannon bone of his left hind leg.
Mongolian Groom, worked by Mongolian trainer Ebenish Ganbat, broke down while charging in the homestretch of the $6 million race.
Bramlage evaluated pre-race safety procedures and protocols and examined the condition of the horse before the race, finding "lesions in both hind distal cannon bones."
"The problem was the stress fracture that escaped identification, but not because it or the affected joint had been treated in any fashion," Bramlage said.
"The hind fetlocks are noted as normal or unremarkable in all examinations. His motion exams identified no lameness at the pre-race barn exams in any of his races, just stiffness in motion. The truth is he had a bilateral lameness and remained symmetrical in both hind limbs in the barn exams before the 2019 Championships. But this was similar to his previous recent pre-race exams when he won.
"It is a tough assessment as to whether a horse is actually lame or just has routine soreness from a long season."
The report noted that 16 of 17 horses with notes that they were "choppy" or "stiff" in pre-race barn exams ran without problem.
"The examining veterinarians made the right call on 252 horses, 228 starters and 24 horses who were disqualified (scratched) or withdrawn," the report said. "That's a 99.6% accuracy rate. The decision was wrong on only one horse: Mongolian Groom."
"The current system made the wrong call in one instance but it made the right call for 252 horses those two days. It's hard to fault a process that had a 99.6% accuracy rate."
The report noted there were opportunities to remove Mongolian Groom from competition that were "missed due to time constraints or process deficiencies that could be made more prominent."
"In my opinion the key opportunities for process improvement are to improve the quality of the on-track observations and to introduce the ability to jog horses in need of 'extra scrutiny' in circles at some safe location on the back side of the racetrack," Bramlage said. "This should help separate the significantly lame horses from the horses that have routine soreness.
"Since we are dealing with biologic beings and not inert machines, we will never eliminate every opportunity for an occult injury to manifest and will never reach 100% accuracy. But improvement in process should make us better next year than this year and continual refinement should yield even better results."
Fred Hertrich, Breeders' Cup chairman of the board, says the directors will review Bramlage's recommendations for improvements at the next board meeting and discuss them with the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition.