It appeared that Santa Anita had a safe Breeders' Cup, but in the last race, at the top of the stretch, Mongolian Groom was pulled up in distress. He suffered a life-ending injury to his left-hind leg and was euthanized on Saturday. It was the 37th death at Santa Anita since Dec. 30 and will raise the temperature even higher on the track with one day remaining in the meeting.
It was the seventh death in the abbreviated fall meeting. Last year, there were four in the same time span.
Most in the crowd of 67,811 were focused on the front of the race where Vino Rosso and McKinzie were fighting for the lead in the $6 million Classic, the marquee event of the two-day event. Vino Rosso won the Classic by 4 1/4 lengths over McKinzie.
Mongolian Groom was in third place when he was injured. Both jockeys in front of him looked back as if they had heard something when Mongolian Groom started to be pulled up.
"Given the extent of the injury, Dr. (Ryan) Carpenter, in consultation with Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, veterinary surgeon ... Dr. Rick Arthur, Equine Medical Director of the California Horse Racing Board and attending veterinarian Dr. Vince Baker, recommended humane euthanasia of Mongolian Groom," according to a statement from the Breeders' Cup.
The Breeders' Cup will have Dr. Larry Bramlage, a world-renowned veterinarian at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., conduct an independent investigation. As is standard, a necropsy will be conducted at UC Davis.
The owners of the 4-year-old gelding started thinking about putting the horse in the Classic after he won the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 28. The race was a win-and-you're-in for horses that were eligible through the Breeders' Cup nominating process. Mongolian Groom was not one of those horses. He ran under the Mongolian Stables banner, who paid a $200,000 supplemental fee to get him in the race.
Mongolian Groom was the second Grade 1 winner to die at Santa Anita this year. Battle of Midway, winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in 2017, died in a workout on Feb. 23, the 18th death since Dec. 30. The track was shut down on March 5 after the 21st death and reopened on March 29.
Mongolian Groom was bought in April 2017 for $12,000 at the Ocala (Fla.) Breeders Sale. He had won three of 16 races prior to Saturday and had been running at a high level. He was third in the Santa Anita Handicap, fourth in the Gold Cup and third in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. All are Grade 1 races.
The deaths at Santa Anita were of such concern that the Breeders' Cup discussed moving the event but in late June voted unanimously to keep the event in Arcadia.