Jackie Thacker, the trainer who opted to euthanize grade I winner Monzante, said he made the call when it was apparent the gelding was in a state of suffering following a breakdown in a July 20 claiming race at Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino.
"You could tell he was in a lot of pain," Thacker said of Monzante, who he claimed for $10,000 in May 2012 at Evangeline from previous owner Christine Hardy. Thacker said Monzante had suffered an injury to his right-front sesamoids, the small bones located at the back of the fetlock.
"We still don't know if he stepped on the back of his own foot and that caused it, or if it was another horse," he said.
While the state veterinarians who initially examined Monzante following the incident determined the horse was "salvageable," they also made Thacker aware of the seriousness of the gelding's injury.
"They said, 'We think it's probably a sesamoid, it looks bad, but let your vet look at him and make the call,' " Thacker said. "So we loaded the horse into the trailer, took him back to the barn, cut the bandage off his ankle, and you could see the sesamoids were shattered.
"I don't think there was any possible way they could have put that back together. My vet said, 'I just don't see it happening, Jackie.' So we had to make the decision."
Thacker said it was evident the horse was suffering after sedatives that had been administered to him after the race had worn off.
"My vet and I talked about it and he said, 'If we try to save him, there are still a lot of things that could go wrong with infection, and the fact some surgeries don't hold,' " Thacker said.
Thacker said he had spent $10,000 to $20,000 on previous occasions to try and treat injured horses that eventually had to be euthanized.
"The money (involved in attempting to save the horse) wasn't as much the concern as having to see Monzante suffer," Thacker said. "He had become like one of our family members. He was really my wife Geraldine's horse. Every time she went by the barn she brought him a carrot or apple, so she was really upset about it.
"We didn't want to see him suffer anymore. We thought we were helping him more than hurting him by going ahead and putting him down."
The death of Monzante, winner of the Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT) in 2008 who wound up racing in lower-level claiming races, created a backlash on social media and has again brought racehorse retirement and safety to the forefront. But Thacker, a Louisiana-based trainer-owner who is currently campaigning eight other horses, believes there was nothing else he could have done to prevent Monzante's breakdown.
"He was ready to run," the trainer said of the gelding, who was jogged the morning of the race and pronounced sound. The only reason Monzante had been entered in the $4,000 claimer to begin with, Thacker said, was to make him eligible for future starter allowance races on the turf.
Thacker said he has successfully retired several racehorses and given them to people who have re-trained them for second careers. But he had not yet considered retiring Monzante because the horse still showed an interest in racing.
Before the July 20 race, Monzante had not raced since finishing unplaced in a pair of claiming races at Delta Downs in November. Thacker said the gelding didn't like the consistency of the deep, sandy track, and he had decided to give him some time off before his next start.
During Monzante's layoff, the gelding recorded workouts in December 2012, February, May, and June at Delta Downs or Evangeline. Thacker said he also gave Monzante "four or five two-minute licks" to keep him in good form.
"I gave him more of a mental break, to get out of the stall, go out in the paddock, eat grass, and be a horse," Thacker said. "When we went back to the track (Evangeline Downs), he was like a kid at Christmas time. He was all excited again and acted like he was 3 years old. He loves the track and really wanted to run."
About 36 hours prior to the July 20 race, Thacker said Monzante was administered what he called a routine set of medications, including an 8-milliliter shot of phenylbutazone, a painkiller, which in Louisiana is legal to give to a horse more than 24 hours before a race. Monzante was also given a shot of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, and the adjunct bleeding medication carbazochrome, an anti-hemorrhaging drug also known as Kentucky Red, at four hours to post time, both of which are also within the state's standards.
"I give (Kentucky Red) to all my horses just for caution," Thacker said. "I'd rather them have it and not need it than need it and not have it."
Louisiana is one of a small number of states that allow adjunct bleeder medications. Other jurisdictions have phased out their use or are in the process of doing so.
Thacker said it was clear when he first claimed Monzante last May that he had a past suspensory injury, but it appeared to have healed and he didn't think the gelding needed to take any time off racing.
"He must have gotten (the suspensory injury) years ago; when it first happens you give them rest, but by the time I got him, it didn't have any heat in it, it wasn't sore," said Thacker, who raced the gelding eight times from May to November 2012. During that period, Monzante won twice, finished third three times, and was unplaced three times.
Monzante had an overall career record of 8-5-8 from 43 starts, for earnings of $583,929.
Thacker, who has been training since the 1980s, has had five winners from 41 starters this year. In addition to his horses in training, he keeps several 2-year-olds and yearlings at a nearby farm.
As the Monzante situation was brought to light, it was discovered Thacker had been charged with six counts of animal cruelty in 1990. But the charges were dropped after investigators realized the horses did not belong to Thacker and had been shipped to his farm already in poor condition.
"It was a guy that I let bring horses to my farm while I was staying at the track," Thacker said. "As soon as (investigators) found out they weren't my horses, they dropped the charges and took the horses."
The Louisiana State Racing Commission continues to investigate the Monzante situation. Click here to read a previous article about the incident.