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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


LOS ANGELES–Putting my selections out there for all 14 2019 Breeders’ Cup races with those of my esteemed colleagues was a humbling experience I don’t wish to repeat any time soon.

While the selections appeared to gain accuracy by inches with each passing race, I feel badly that the final race also reflected my assessment and exclusion of a horse whose impact — on racing in California and elsewhere — will probably exceed that of the winner.

What a sad development!

Ironically, Mongolian Groom wore front bandages but it was the left hind leg that sustained the fatal injury.

The first thing I noticed about the horse in the past performances lines was that he won his last race, the third of his career, with a 110 Beyer figure that represented a “new top” by 10 points.

T those who find merit in the form cycle theory ascribed to Len Ragozin, Mongolian Groom was a “bounce” candidate. Coupled with the accompanying class breakthrough, it followed that a repeat of that effort was highly unlikely next time out.

But a bounce is not the harbinger of impending fatal injury.

Including the Classic, Mongolian Groom raced nine times in 210 days following a two month layoff. This came after a second career win in 17 starts FEB 1, 2019. His last five starts came in a 105-day period, with spacing of 28-14-28-35 days.

The February victory came in a one-mile allowance race. He returned to action on Apr. 6 in the Santa Anita Handicap at the Classic distance of 1-1/4 mile.

Mongolian Groom ran twice more at 10 furlongs, in the Gold Cup and Pacific Classic. Each time he finished third to one of his BC Classic rivals; second to McKinzie and third behind winners Vino Rosso and Higher Power, respectively.

Although his last victory was at 1-1/8 miles, he beat McKinzie and Higher Power. He appeared to have improved significantly under jockey Abel Cedillo for trainer Enebish Ganbat.

I wasn’t aware that the trainer was disappointed with his last workout, or that some thought his rear action was atypical.

As that workout is no longer available on-line, one might wonder whether it was a factor in the deliberations of the new safety panel.

The horse was eligible because he was Win-and-You’re-In (WAYI) victor via the G1 Awesome Again which offered a purse of “only” $300K, as compared with other Classic WAYI events such as the Foster ($600K), Haskell ($1M), Pacific Classic ($1M), and Jockey Club Gold Cup ($750K).

Certainly the Classic represented an opportunity for Mongolian Groom to become a division star, but with at most half the winner’s net of those other events in the bank, I wonder how many would have shown the restraint to not fully test him at the highest level and at a distance he was yet to master?

Perhaps the huge purses of the Classic and Turf make them higher risk races. If purses were scaled back, would owners continue to pay soaring sales prices and skyrocketing stud fees?

More importantly, would owners be less inclined to show impatience and risk their animal’s health? Maybe that’s the real answer to the owner shortage.

I don’t know whether those investigating the gelding’s death will have more medical records available to them, or will they have to search for evidence of past injuries?

I believe most would agree that Mongolian Groom not have died in vain if this endeavor helps find additional ways to protect his brothers and sisters in a proactive manner.

But what if such revelations were not forthcoming? Will it give those withholding their support for reform a place to hang their hat?

Despite the fact that Vino Rosso made my day, it was indeed a bittersweet ending to an experience I had looked forward to for so long. Further, it’s conceivable that Mongolian Groom pace pressure came at the expense of McKinzie.

Speaking of the Classic runnerup, trainer Bob Baffert announced possible starts in both Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Maybe McKinzie’s loss will prove to be racing’s gain. It would be welcome news if something positive came as a result of loss.

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