There’s been a lot of chatter going on this week on social media about what happened to Mongolian Groom in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. I’ve seen it discussed by so many different people, from so many different backgrounds. Some are blaming the track, some are blaming officials, some are even blaming Mongolian Groom’s pedigree (that one I don’t particularly agree with).
Seeing what the non-horse people are saying is probably the most troubling. It’s easy, as an “insider” who understands the animals and the sport a lot more, to shrug off those opinions or roll your eyes at them, saying they’re just the uneducated public. But the truth is, their opinion is what’s going to make or break this sport. Public perception matters, and what’s happening now is the ultimate PR nightmare: a horse breaking down on prime time tv at a track that has been making headlines all year for horse deaths. The public sees jockeys whipping the tar out of horses, a horse’s leg turning into a spaghetti noodle underneath it, and then voila – yet another death. It’s incredibly bad for racing, and honestly it doesn’t exactly shed a positive light on ANY equestrian sports, as far as the public is concerned. They don’t know the difference.
The videos of Mongolian Groom’s last few workouts also make you wonder what exactly happened here. The horse didn’t look good on these videos.
He’s also had a pretty packed schedule. In the last 12 months he raced 13 times. He spent all spring training and racing at Santa Anita when horses were dropping left and right. He traveled to the east coast and back twice. He’s done 9 stakes races since April of this year – 7 months time. At one point he even did two Grade 1 races two weeks apart, with a third less than a month later. Not a schedule you see that often with a hard-running stakes horse.
Mongolian Groom had a heck of a year, with no breaks. He finished pretty consistently in the money and put up speed figures between 105 and 126 all but one time. If his record tells us anything, it’s that the horse was definitely a trier. He showed up and he did his job, time and again, right up until he couldn’t. This wasn’t a horse that colicked, or had a pasture accident, or whatever myriad ways that horses find to die on a regular basis. This wasn’t a case where everything was done right and the horse just fell on some shit luck. This was man-made, on the world stage, while in service to entertain people, with a lot of questionable factors involved. Combine his record, how he looked in those workout videos, the controversy surrounding Santa Anita, and what happened in the Classic… it makes me feel like humans really failed this horse along the way. Massively.
That’s the part of this that is so heartbreaking to me. The shit storm is really tough to watch, but honestly… maybe the sport deserves it. Maybe all horse sports do. Maybe we ALL need to do a better job of looking after these horses, and if we can’t do that, if we can’t put the well-being of the horse as the highest priority, then maybe we don’t deserve to have a sport. Business is business, yeah sure I get it, but at what cost? I will never be comfortable with the idea of horses being disposable. And using up a good horse certainly isn’t limited to just racing, you see it all the time. Shoot, there was an eventer that did Burghley (didn’t finish, but made it about halfway around), Blenheim, AND Pau. And how many people are out there showing 3+ days a week, 20+ weeks a year?
Maybe I’m overreacting or being a bleeding heart, or maybe I’m just tired of seeing horses pay the price. It’s been a long year, with way too many lost horses in several sports, and my heart is weary. We haven’t done our best by these horses. But I do know one thing… if we don’t fix this – if racing doesn’t fix their massive PR problem, and if all horse sports don’t sit up and pay attention to what’s happening here – it will trickle down to all of us. Someday the industry as a whole will have to answer for this, and that day is coming.