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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


The first time I considered the concept of “Triumph and Tragedy” at a racetrack, I was sitting in the front row, high above the sand and loam of Belmont Park.

It was October 27, 1990. My Newsday colleagues and I looked down in horror through watery eyes as the great Go for Wand struggled to stay on her feet.

The event was so horrific that I walked into the press box lounge where Willie Shofner kept a bottle of whiskey, presumably for occasions such as this.

I looked up and on the television monitor was Ron McAnally, trainer of Distaff winner Bayakoa. McAnally was crying and not because his great race mare had just repeated her 1989 victory in this race.

He choked on his words, in tears, as he spoke to a national television audience: “They give their lives for our pleasure.”

As it turns out, Breeders’ Cup 36 could not go the distance, stopping a quarter-mile short of ending a day filled with the kind of celebratory emotion that made grown men and women cry, for love of the game.

But the fairy tale ended when all the unprecedented safety protocols and 30 of the racing world’s best veterinarians could not put Mongolian Groom back together again.

This is a fact of racing life, one that cannot be stopped. “Part of the game,” the saying goes. That may be keeping it real but don’t expect an under-educated, well-intentioned public to understand and accept that truism.

At this time and in this place, tragedy had the last word. Lost in an act of a humane mercy killing was the dominating performance of Vino Rosso, the crowning achievement of Bricks and Mortar, the uncommon speed, versatility and heart of Mitole, the best sprinter in the world.

Also lost was the supremacy of the super trainer and the super rider, apt descriptions for the most successful horsemen but with completely different connotations.

Irad Ortiz Jr. won back-to-back titles in his last two rides and the lion’s share of $10 million from the Turf and Classic; four wins for the event, all for different outfits. Man-Oh-Chad saddled his four Cup winners at Santa Anita, albeit over a two-day period.

Also on display was the inescapable reality of track bias, tight turns and wide post draws with its built-in unfairness to stakeholders and horseplayers alike. Also eclipsed was an “I Am Racing” moment shared by a father and daughter on national television.

The only thing missing was an appearance by the presumptive leader of America’s widely acknowledged glamour division; maladies, circumstances and bad timing that kept Derby-first Maximum Security on the sidelines.

But everything changed, lost in the wake of a Breeders’ Cup announcement: “The death of Mongolian Groom is a loss to the entire horse racing community,” the statement read.

“Our equine and human athletes’ safety is the 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.” Breeders’ Cup also stated that renowned equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage would conduct an independent investigation. Those findings will be published.

The above statements referenced the fatal breakdown of Mongolian Groom in a race which Todd Pletcher, who never has left a T un-crossed or an I un-dotted, efforted to fill the Classic hole in his resume.

To accomplish that he conjured a plan in the spring, shipping Vino Rosso to Santa Anita for the G1 1-1/4 miles Gold Cup, testing the surface in what was a very early Classic prep. The notion worked then and worked again yesterday, only more impressively.

Before being informed of Mongolian Groom’s death, Pletcher explained how safety and caring for horses was the focus for everyone involved in the event, precautions that worked until the day’s final race.

“It’s something we were all very concerned about coming in and anxious not only for running in huge races like these but also hoping everything would go smoothly. I think everyone took every possible precautionary measure.”

Cruelly ironic, it all went well until the last fateful two furlongs of America’s most prestigious race for the world’s best horses, ages three and up. The enhanced protocols resulted in eight program scratches over two days, including several high-profile entrants.

The morning after had an entirely different vibe, however. By then the Twitterverse was fully engaged. Trainer Graham Motion had his usual thoughtful observations on the events of Saturday.

After hitting the high notes, Motion wrote, in part: “Sadly it’s not a perfect world and we put too much on ourselves if we think we can eliminate every single injury, horses like humans get hurt.

“Horses had been supervised all week in the most thorough manner I have ever seen and many positive changes were made in the lead-up to the Breeders’ Cup. We must continue that path and make the sport the best it can be.”

On the flip side were supporters of the activist website Social media followers were directed to the site with the suggestion “watch Mongolian Groom be beaten into the ground to his death.”

A review of the tape with the headline “Lash, lash, lash, snap, dangle, death,” shows that jockey Abel Cedillo waved the crop at his mount right-handed, struck him once, just before Mongolian Groom took the fateful bad step.

Cedillo quickly took a hold at that juncture, gathered his mount, trying to slow him down. Though Cedillo aggressively pounced on the pacesetters in the backstretch run, the talented young rider did nothing wrong in the immediate aftermath of injury.

Understandably, but unfortunately lacking in transparency, XBTV lost little time in replacing the video of Mongolian Groom’s recent workouts with text that recorded the trials with their workout times, but no images.

One of the workouts was very slow, upsetting to 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.

So now a battle is joined once again, one commenter stating on “Fuck you gamblers.” Another read “You ugly scumbags who work in this torture chamber….how do you live with yourselves?”

Yet another exhorted web host Patrick Battuello to “go on 60 minutes!!! No fooling around, go BIGTIME!!!” Battuello responded “we’re trying.” The barrage continued: “Heartless bastards…” “You are all amoral animal abusers…..period.”

By 1 pm, there were 50 comments on a virtually unknown website and finally, this: “All California politicians including Gov. Newsom needs to immediately enact SB-469.

“Please, everybody call, email, Tweet these politicians and demand that this shuts down, so that not one more racehorse will die for this frivolous unnecessary gambling venue.”

This is what America was saying 15 hours after Vino Rosso ran the race of his life and presumably earned an Eclipse Award for best older dirt male.

In a touching moment matched only by the Eurton family in the final Breeders’ Cup race on Future Stars Friday, Vino Rosso co-owners Mike Repole and Vinnie Viola paid homage to Jimmy Crupi, a Monmouth horse trainer turned legendary bloodstock agent, farm manager and breaker of yearlings. Crupi passed early this year.

Said Viola: “I think Todd and Mike would agree the person who oversees the breaking and initial training of a horse is probably as critical as any part of the team.”

Addressing Crupi’s spirit post-race, Viola continued “This one really was because of, and for, you.”

It was the final touching moment in an event that routinely produced the warmest, raw emotions every 30 minutes. But then, as Motion reminded us, it’s far from a perfect world.  

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⚠ Before you comment

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20 Responses

  1. Why do we pay any attention to these nut cases. It’s not like abolishing horse racing is their only cause.

    They want to force us to stop eating meat, stop driving cars, stop flying in planes, stop air-conditioning our homes.

    These people are crazy and you know what they say about arguing with a crazy person.

  2. Because they have the eye and ear of every important news organization; broadcast, print and Internet? Just spit-balling here…

  3. TTT

    Horses built this country, they built this country without drugs. Ban Lasix now!!!! The industry brought this on themselves, and the industry is the only one who can make it right.

  4. Well said John. Such a sad place we find ourselves today, and very reminiscent of that day almost 30 years ago, where I found myself turning my back and walking away from my spot on the rail, not far from where Go For Wand had gone down, not wanting to see what I knew would happen next.

  5. TTT

    Don’t mean to be rude or overstep my bounds, and this question is rhetorical in nature. Has anybody out there in Horseraceinsider land ever been drunk? Or maybe just feeling good; a little light headed after a couple of pops? Experience dizziness? Experience Weakness? Experience dehydration? And let me ask you this, has anybody ever experienced taking a bad step, or falling down after ingesting alcohol? Does anybody argue that this drug, alcohol, dulls the senses, and the ability of the body to work normally, as God intended? Ever run after ingesting alcohol? Ever run as fast as you can after ingesting alcohol? As my psychiatrist would say, “how did that make you feel?”

    Below is an important warning that comes with the drug Furosemide:


    Furosemide is a strong diuretic (‘water pill’) and may cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. It is important that you take it exactly as told by your doctor. If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately: decreased urination; dry mouth; thirst; nausea; vomiting; weakness; drowsiness; confusion; muscle pain or cramps; or rapid or pounding heartbeats.


    As I recall, when this evil drug was initially allowed, a veterinarian had to attest in writing to the fact that an animal was “a bleeder” before it could be administered. God knows what the rule has devolved into. Initially, few horses ran with it, and slowly but surely instead of the exception, it became the rule. Once the drug company got their foot in the door, it was goodnight Irene.

    With the exception of Dr. Doolittle, have you ever heard of someone communicating with a horse, asking the question, to wit: “When running in a race after involuntarily being drugged with Lasix, do you feel nausea, weakness, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, muscle pain or cramps, rapid or pounding heartbeats, and in this unnatural state, did this ever cause you to take a bad step, which led to your falling down, placing yourself and the jockey in mortal danger?

    We are unable to know exactly what a horse is feeling during the running of the race when this drug is introduced into their body, and it stands to reason, just as the warning above for humans, who all react differently to a particular drug, that it is the same for horses. Unfortunately, the horse is unable to speak up and say to the veterinarian, owner, trainer, or jockey, “please, don’t drug me anymore, I fear for my life,” or “that drug you give me dehydrates me and give me a hangover.”

    Have not even addressed the negative effects of continued use of this drug upon a horse’s muscles and bones.


    The racetrack industry turns a blind eye to what is happening to these drugged horses, that this is animal abuse, and instead of righting this wrong, they search for every other reason under the sun why horses are breaking down.

  6. Triple T, anytime, anyone wants to engage here on serious subjects in a respectful manner could never overstep. That’s why we’re here.

    You touched on a lot of things. Here’s what I know and what I think I know. I don’t believe that Lasix was the direct cause of Mongolian Groom’s demise.

    As to cumulative effects of racing on it over time, I can’t speak to with any certitude. I only know it has helped weaken the breed and should not be permitted on raceday. Time off for bleeders is what’s needed. Train on it, but increase withdrawal time. Trainers say that’s counter-productive, that its efficacy has a shelf life. So Lasix supporters will never seriously consider extending withdrawal times.

    Back in the day, I occasionally would get tipsy but current day, dehydration is real and with kidney issues I must dream plenty of H20. And that’s why horses get “jugs,” filled with electrolytes to balance the side effects of Lasix use.

    Lasix promotes urination which is the bad news and worse news. Horses lighten up, carry a little less body weight and run just a tad faster–performance enhancing edge. And, of course, it can mask the use of other chemicals. But the “Lasix 600” in Kentucky voted to keep it by any means necessary. Part of their “program.”

    Coupled with selective breeding–pretty, athletic horses for the sales ring; racing more durable animals is secondary–it weakens the breed in future generations. The only way this gets done is by federal legislation; the same people that can put racing out of business if the industry fails to get serious about breeding hardier stock. Pick your poison.

    And I tell you right now, if Patrick Battuelo is interviewed on “60 Minutes” that might enable those who would should it down to win. In that case, the time would come to either bone up on your Meadowlands harness figs, learn about European racing, or take points on the road in the NFL.

    1. John, sports betting having become de rigueur in many states now it seems like your suggestion to “take the points” or the “money line” could be on target (as an alternative to The Sport of Kings). I always thought the horses of a bygone era were tougher, and more durable, and you seem to agree. With all the negative publicity now I have been conditioned to think horses like Bricks and Mortar should go straight to breeding as to not risk injury, or worse, on the track. Seattle Slew would not have raced at 4 today. No way. So the game has changed and smart people like you and your cohorts will chart for us the future of this sport. Really enjoy the site, thank you for your well considered opinions. Also enjoy Jicha!

  7. Den, if I knew you back then, I would have brought you some liquor–for medicinal purposes only–in a ‘go’ cup. It was one of the worst days I spent at the racetrack, no different than Ruffian’s ill fated match race.

  8. TTT

    JP, baby, have no opinion as to what caused Mongolian Groom’s demise; do have opinion about the side effects of the drug Lasix upon a horse during the running of a race, which may cause the death or injury to the horse and rider.

    With respect to “training” on Lasix, if I was a gambling man, would wager that horses do not train on it, only race on it. But we are not privy to that information (but we should be). The height of hypocrisy. Agree, that time off is the only answer.

    A little less body weight?? With respect to Lasix promoting urination; you ain’t whistlin’ Dixie friend, from what I understand, losing more than 25 pounds after the injection before the race. The “Lying Lasix 600” should be ashamed, formally admitting they are advocates of animal abuse.

    My only allegiance is in attempting to get the truth out about Lasix; the drug lobby behind it; the greedy trainers/owners attempting to get an edge with no concern for the animal. Whatever these leftist agendas may be with respect to ending horse racing, their arguments about Lasix are correct. The industry should voluntarily ban Lasix, only then can we continue the fight against these morons with clean hands.

  9. These notes about horses perishing on the track remind me of the late Chris Antley when he tried to help,calm that good looking horse
    right after passing the line of a famous Grade I race . God bless him and all of the horses who have perished from small barns,tracks like Finger Lakes and in major ones like Santa Anita ,Belmont and all others. Like the late great dean of public handicappers, Russ Harris, would say about picking dropping claimers; “Is the horse sound? Only his Vet knows ! ” Rip.

  10. James, it sure was an iconic scene; Chris Antley comforting Charismatic. And true, we miss all those that have perished, helping to make the game as enjoyable and challenging as it is. The hope is that things will improve to the point where nowhere is making RIP to the sport itself.

  11. Mal, first thanks for the props, and I’m sure I speak for TJ, too.

    We feel it’s our job to speak for those who need it most, the horses and the players.

    Yes, the game has changed but sadly not for the better, IMO, that’s why we try to make a difference. Try will always be the operative word.

  12. TTT

    In an attempt to bolster the pro-Lasix argument, have seen on numerous internet venues, etc., reference to the “Lasix 600,” prominent racing people who advocate the use of Lasix, who signed a petition. Instead of further derision of these petition members, please read the article below:

  13. Ted, can’t explain what happened to the link you just provided in your most recent post, honestly. But my intent is that readers could check it out and expound if they wished. However…

    While the examples cited were anecdotally amusing, their subject matter were frivolous. Wanting to possibly bring medication rules in Kentucky more in line with international standards, 600 prominent horsemen made it known that under no circumstances should raceday Lasix be banned.

    I consider raceday Lasix use a serious issue and not comparable to the wishes of crackpot do-gooders. Besides, wouldn’t it be bitch-karma at work if the fatal breakdown of Mongolian Groom ultimately turned out to be racing’s Deathstar in California?

    For those who might want to reference what we’re talking about, please re-post the link you provide that for some reason above my pay grade disappeared. (Yes, my tech shortcomings have been exposed once again)!

  14. TTT
    JP, my point in posting crackpot petitions is obvious and needs no further explanation. People attempting to further a particular agenda with a petition does not make the agenda moral or just. The love of money the root of all evil.

  15. I thought it to be a little obtuse, but that’s just me. Your last line, however, is as straightforward and meaningful as the day it was first uttered…

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