Breeders’ Cup Issues Report on Mongolian Groom Injury

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Mongolian Groom | Benoit

Officials at Breeders’ Cup Limited have issued a 25-page evaluation report from Dr. Larry Bramlage on the fatal injury suffered by Mongolian Groom (Hightail) during the final stages of the 2019 GI Breeders’ Cup Classic. His was the only injury among the 229 horses that raced during the two days of the Breeders’ Cup. The entire evaluation as delivered to the Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors can be viewed here.

In trying to address the issue of why the injury happened, Bramlage stated that Mongolian Groom was “harboring a fine stress fracture in the bottom of the LH distal cannon bone,” and goes on to say that, in actual fact, “he had small stress fractures in both hind cannon bones.” Bramlage says “there is no evidence that the horse’s injury was ignored or covered up,” and that the horse was unaware of the condition during the race–that “his adrenaline levels wiped out any impediments to performance.”

Bramlage also reports that Mongolian Groom’s out-of-competition testing yielded no prohibited substances and that all pre-race medication stipulations were adhered to. Mongolian Groom was treated with a muscle relaxant, Bramlage said, when his saddle slipped during an Oct. 27 workout and that “there is no reason to believe medication played any role in the horse’s injury. The problem was the stress fracture that escaped identification, but not because it or the affected joint had been treated in any fashion. Dr. Bramlage’s evaluation report identifies six suggested process improvements aimed at refining safety and evaluation protocols for future events which he believes will yield continued progress in ensuring the safety of its participants.

In summarizing his findings, Bramlage wrote: “It is hard to fault a process that had a 99.6% accuracy rate, but there were opportunities to remove Mongolian Groom from competition that were missed due to time constraints or process deficiencies that could be made more prominent. The bilaterally lame horses are most problematic. Unilaterally lame horses are easier to identify and to pass judgment on. In my opinion, the key opportunities for process improvement are to improve the quality of the on-track observations and to introduce the ability to jog horses in need of “extra scrutiny” in circles at some safe location on the back side of the racetrack. This should help separate the significantly lame horses from the horses that have routine soreness. It would also create the threshold for

requesting radiographic or ultrasonographic imaging prior to clearance for competition for horses of concern. The advantageous use of video footage of horses training prior to the event as part of the routine veterinary examinations should also help select horses for “extra scrutiny”. All three of these processes’ improvements would likely have helped clarify Mongolian Groom’s status. Since we are dealing with biologic beings and not inert machines, we will never eliminate

every opportunity for an occult injury to manifest and will never reach 100% accuracy. But improvement in process should make us better next year than this year and continual refinement

should yield even better results the year after that. The process was good; it can be made a little better with some re-organization.”

Chairman of the Board of the Breeders’ Cup, Fred W. Hertrich III, stated, “The Breeders’ Cup is committed to taking all actions to ensure our equine and human athletes compete under the safest and most transparent conditions possible. The Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors appreciates Dr. Bramlage’s thorough evaluation, and will review Dr. Bramlage’s recommendations for improvements to the processes that were in place for the 2019 World Championships and discuss them in detail at the next board meeting for adoption at future events. We will also discuss these recommendations with the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, so the recommendations will have an even broader and more beneficial impact on our sport and reducing injury to our athletes.”

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