Track at Santa Anita Park
The track at Santa Anita Park. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Mongolian Groom on Saturday became the 37th horse since December to die at Santa Anita Park after suffering a leg injury in the biggest race of the weekend, the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The tragedy occurred despite assurances that organizers did “everything humanly possible” to ensure no horses would be hurt.

The 4-year-old gelding didn’t make it through the home stretch of the 1 1/4-mile race. It was the 22nd race of an otherwise injury-free weekend at Santa Anita.

The park hosted its record 10th Breeders’ Cup World Championships this weekend.

Attendants placed a green screen around Mongolian Groom to obscure the view of a crowd of nearly 68,000. He was rushed off the track in an ambulance.

A statement from Breeders’ Cup Ltd. said a team led by veterinary surgeon Dr. Ryan Carpenter assessed the horse.

“During their evaluation at the equine hospital at Santa Anita, they observed a serious fracture to his left hind limb. Radiographs were taken and a complete evaluation was performed. Given the extent of the injury, Dr. Carpenter, in consultation with (a team of doctors) recommended humane euthanasia of Mongolian Groom,” according to the statement.

Earlier in the week, veterinary team leader Debbie Lamparter claimed, “No horses racing anywhere have been more examined or observed than these horses.” Breeders’ Cup president and CEO Craig Fravel told reporters at the time, “I think we have done everything humanly possible to prevent anything from happening.”

Observers expect Fravel to leave the organization to become CEO of racing operations for The Stronach Group. That’s Santa Anita’s parent organization.

The Breeders’ Cup statement also said, “Our equine and human athletes’ safety is the Breeders’ Cup’s top priority. We have worked closely with Santa Anita leading up to the World Championships to promote enhanced equine safety.”

“Santa Anita has implemented numerous industry-leading reforms to enhance the existing health and safety measures with the intent of providing a safe racing environment. In addition, Breeders’ Cup always observes the most thorough up-to-date medication practices and restrictions, testing protocols, equine security and surveillance program, veterinary exams, injury management protocols and racing surface testing.

The statement said the measures ensured “our athletes are racing under the safest and most transparent conditions possible.”

Officials announced that renowned veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage will conduct an independent evaluation.

The Breeders’ Cup’s board of directors agreed in late June not to move the location of one of the world’s most prestigious events.

That decision followed the deaths of 30 horses, which forced the closure of Santa Anita for three weeks in March. Six more horses died before Mongolian Groom’s injury.

Protesters decrying the recent spate of horse deaths appeared at Santa Anita Saturday. A group of horse-racing supporters offered a counter protest.

Earlier in the week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the weekend “a critical test for the future of horse racing in California and in the United States.” She said it may be time to re-examine the sport’s future if it couldn’t be conducted in a “safe and humane manner.”

In the hours leading up to the races, veterinary inspections caused four Breeders’ Cup entrants to be scratched. They included Mile contenders Suedois and Bolo, Filly & Mare Turf contender Fleeting and Sprint contender Imperial Hint.

The Santa Anita situation affected Del Mar’s racing season. Officials engaged in a successful court battle to bar a  trainer associated with some of the Santa Anita deaths from working with horses this summer, but a judge reversed the initial decision.

The California Horse Racing Board will issue a report in December on the Santa Anita racing and training fatalities.

Veterinary personnel, safety stewards and others have attempted to understand how each death occurred in order to identify any common characteristics or causes, according to Mike Marten, public information officer for the California Horse Racing Board. They will try to develop prevention strategies as well.

Board investigators issued more than 120 subpoenas for records. In addition, they continue to review all cases for rule or criminal violations, Marten said.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced a parallel investigation.

– City News Service