HorseRaceInsider has been researching the Mongolian Groom incident and its possible causes, hoping to learn how such a thing could happen in light of industry-leading safety protocols upon which further layers of veterinary precaution were added in advance of Breeders’ Cup 36.
Wishing to get confirmation of what we learned from several anonymous industry sources, we put in a call to Dr. Dionne Benson, Chief Veterinary Officer for The Stronach Group. Based at Santa Anita Park. Dr. Benson was appointed to that post earlier this year.
Dr. Benson was hired by TSG’s CEO Belinda Stronach and reports directly to Ms. Stronach. Dr. Benson’s bona fides include being former Executive Director and COO for the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
Benson oversaw the findings of 30 veterinarians who were contracted to monitor Breeders’ Cup participants and she had last word in the decision-making process, principally who passed or failed safety protocol inspection.
As a result of the added measures, eight horses of the 163 entered in 14 Breeders’ Cup races on the evening of October 28 were scratched off the program. There are reasons to believe there should have been a ninth; Mongolian Groom.
We had several questions to ask Dr. Benson and placed a call today just passed noon, EST. We introduced ourselves, the website, and provided professional background, asking if she would answer several questions regarding Saturday’s incident.
“I cannot,” she replied. “Your questions should be directed to Breeders’ Cup.” I replied that since she would not provide answers, I would print the questions here and allow interested parties to decide for themselves.
I did not call Breeders’ Cup. They already had stated in online journals that they would stand behind the statement they issued Saturday, and would issue no further comment until noted equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage concluded an independent investigation.
Here, then, is what we learned and the questions we had for Dr. Benson and perhaps a jumping off point for Dr Bramlage’s inquiry.
One question concerns Mongolian Groom’s final workout. In our Sunday column, available on the HRI homepage, we wrote:
“One of the workouts was very slow, upsetting trainer Enebish Ganbat, who wanted five furlongs in 1:00 and got 1:02 from the exercise rider instead. It’s not unreasonable to wonder why the workout was a lot slower than planned.”
Workouts often do not go as planned but two full seconds is worth an estimated 10 lengths–not insignificant. Further, video of Mongolian Groom’s two most recent trials were removed from the workout-video section of the XBTV website, replaced with a written description with final times only.
Full disclosure: I omitted an observation in Sunday’s column because I didn’t think it was fair to criticize the horse’s condition given the brevity of the video I saw on Twitter–four to six seconds–and not knowing the physical idiosyncrasies of the individual.
The following is an amalgam of what HRI has learned, and what we wanted Dr. Benson to confirm or deny:
Any one of 30 vets can “flag” a horse for additional inspection and report their observations to Dr. Benson. Were there any pre-race issues with Mongolian Groom? Was Mongolian Groom flagged for inspection?
If not, how could so many observers missed it? If so, did the well-meaning, comprehensively enhanced safety protocols fail?
Santa Anita had video of four horses with questionable running action: Three were scratched; the fourth was Mongolian Groom.
The horse, who suffered multiple fractures of the lower left hind cannon and upper pastern, was later observed on video as being off in his right hind.
This sounds counter-intuitive but by favoring a “bad” leg, all the pressure shifts to the healthy appendage. Did Dr. Benson review the pre-race videos? If not, why not? Did she believe that Mongolian Groom showed no untoward signs while trotting?
What happened to Mongolian Groom’s pre-race veterinary records? Were the records of the fatally injured horse waved?
If either of these questions produces an unsatisfactory response, then where is the California Horse Racing Board hiding?
The Chief Veterinary Officer at TSG tracks has the authority to scratch any horse at any time. However, none of the organizations provided details on the number of exams Mongolian Groom had prior to Saturday’s race.
Various sources have reported widely that Breeders’ Cup horses were inspected a minimum of four times. Horses showing any cause for concern would be subject to additional examination.
With respect to taking down race video, it is routine Santa Anita procedure. This practice is in place virtually everywhere. Once an incident has been acknowledged, there is no need for gratuitous sensational horror.
Even though Mongolian Groom won the win-and-in G1 Awesome Again, his sire is not Breeders’ Cup nominated and he had to be supplemented into the race at a cost of $200,000. Had he been vet-scratched, the owners would have been entitled to a refund.
There is an opportunity to share responsibility for this unfortunate incident that, by reasonable accounts, never should have occurred. Mongolian Groom should have been safe in his stall, not on the racetrack.
Did the trainer who questioned the final workout time not see a problem noticed by so many observers? And, finally, why didn’t the buck stop at the desk of TSG’s Chief Veterinary Officer?