Death of Classic runner Mongolian Groom casts pall on Breeders' Cup

Rebecca BRYAN

Arcadia (United States) (AFP) - Mongolian Groom was fatally injured in the Breeders' Cup Classic won by Vino Rosso on Saturday in a dismal end to the $28 million racing extravaganza at Santa Anita.

Thirty-seven horses have now died since December at Santa Anita, a grim tally that has sparked outrage, an investigation by law enforcement authorities and dire warnings about racing's future from federal legislators.

Santa Anita owners the Stronach Group and Breeders' Cup officials had hoped a raft of safety precautions would see the $28 million, 14-race slate go off without a hitch.

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And it almost did.

In the final race, Mongolian Groom, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Enebish Ganbat, was pulled up by jockey Abel Cedillo at the top of the stretch.

As Cedillo dismounted attendants rushed over, putting up screens to shield the horse from view as he was loaded onto the equine ambulance with what proved to be a serious fracture to his lower left hind leg.

After x-rays and evaluation at the track veterinary hospital, a team of four vets "recommended humane euthanasia of Mongolian Groom," a statement from Breeders' Cup Limited said.

At a track where anti-racing protesters greeted arriving spectators on Friday and Saturday, the death overshadowed Vino Rosso's romp to victory in the $6 million Classic.

Vino Rosso trainer Todd Pletcher had voiced the hope that surgery would prove possible, but that was not the case.

"It's something that I think we were all very concerned about coming in," Pletcher said. "I think everyone took every precautionary measure they possibly could."

On Wednesday, US Senator Dianne Feinstein of California sent a letter to Rick Baedeker, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, in which she called the Breeders' Cup a "critical test for the future of horseracing in California and in the United States."

Santa Anita briefly suspended racing in March to test the surface and subsurface of the track.

The Stronach Group then introduced new restrictions on medication, and mandatory pre-race checks by a panel of veterinarians that had power to scratch any horse from a race.

The rules were in effect at the Breeders' Cup, where 30 veterinarians were on hand on race days.

A total of six Breeders' Cup horses, including four on Saturday, were scratched on the order of veterinarians, with not all of their trainers agreeing with the decisions.

Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien sounded mystified after vets ruled Fleeting out of the Filly & Mare Turf.

"We were happy with her and felt she trotted up the way she always does," he told the Racing Post. "But the vets weren't happy with her and we respect their opinion.

"When you come to these jurisdictions you must abide by their rules."

- History for Joseph O'Brien -

It was just part of a disappointing week for the European contingent, although O'Brien's son, Joseph, made the trans-Atlantic raiders' lone win a historic one.

Already the youngest jockey to win a Breeders' Cup race -- aboard his father's St. Nicolas Abbey in the 2011 Turf -- he became the youngest trainer, at 26, to saddle one when Iridessa held off Vasilika to win the Filly & Mare Turf by a neck.

He also joined France's Freddy Head as the only people ever to both ride and train a Breeders' Cup winner.

Although Chad Brown's Sistercharlie had to settle for third in her Filly & Mare Turf repeat bid, Brown finished the two days with three wins -- capturing the $4 million Turf in scintillating style with Bricks and Mortar and the Mile with Uni on Saturday after Structor struck in the Juvenile Turf on Friday.

Brown took his tally of Breeders' Cup wins to 15, tying Bob Baffert for second most for a trainer, a list led by D. Wayne Lukas's 20.

Irad Ortiz, who masterfully piloted Vino Rosso to a 4 1/4-length victory over the Baffert-trained McKinzie in the Classic, rode Brown's Bricks and Mortar to victory by a head in the Turf in his four-win weekend.

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