Mongolian Groom injury casts pall on Breeders' Cup
Arcadia (United States) (AFP)
Vino Rosso was vindicated with a Classic crown, but as the Breeders' Cup drew to a close at Santa Anita all eyes were on Mongolian Groom, who was injured in the $6 million showpiece finale.
At a track where 36 horse deaths since December have sparked outrage, a criminal investigation 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.
And it did, until the final race, when 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 on-call veterinarian Scott Palmer said was a "serious" injury to his lower left hind leg.
He was taken to the track's medical facility for further evaluation.
"I'm hopeful that it's something you can have a surgery for and have a recovery," Todd Pletcher, trainer of Classic winner Vino Rosso said. "It's something that I think we were all very concerned about coming in.
"I think everyone took every precautionary measure they possibly could," Pletcher said.
It was the worst possible outcome for the Breeders' Cup, Santa Anita and racing in California.
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."
The rash of fatalities -- more than 20 in the first three months of the year -- sparked protests at the track and demonstrators were out throughout the Breeders' Cup.
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, especially race-day 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, 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 meaningful 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 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.
Ortiz rode two of Brown's winners -- Structor and Bricks and Mortar, along with Vino Rosso and, on Friday, Wesley Ward's Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Four Wheel Drive.
Baffert was shut out of the winner's circle, his fancied McKinzie finishing second to Vino Rosso in the Classic with Higher Power, trained by John Sadler and ridden by Flavien Prat, third.
The Classic win came after Vino Rosso beat Code of Honor in his last start, only to be disqualified.
"Justice has been served," co-owner Mike Repole said.
But the celebrations were tempered by concerns for the fate of Mongolian Groom.
"I hope it's something he can have a succesful surgery for," Pletcher said.
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