The executive director of the Louisiana State Racing Commission said July 23 state veterinarians who examined Monzante following his breakdown in a July 20 race at Evangeline Downs Racetrack, Casino & Hotel determined the horse was salvageable but that his trainer and a private veterinarian apparently made the decision to euthanize the 9-year-old gelding.
Charles Gardiner, the LSRC executive director, said July 23 that Monzante, a grade I winner earlier in his career, was stabilized on the track by a state veterinarian after being pulled up during the claiming race and returned to the barn of owner/trainer Jackie W. Thacker. The Equibase chart states that Monzante chased the early pace in the one-mile-and-70-yard race before stopping. He was eventually euthanized.
"He was stabilized, and in the opinion of the state veterinarians he was very salvageable," Gardiner said. "The decision to euthanize was made at the barn by the trainer and a private veterinarian."
Because Monzante had previously been placed on the veterinarian's watch list, the gelding underwent intensive scrutiny by state vets prior to his final start, Gardiner said.
"This horse was examined and jogged the morning of the race and was pronounced sound," Gardiner said. "Because he had a history of being on the vets' list before, he was brought behind the gate, and palpated and examined and jogged again. In consultation with the rider, it was verified that the rider thought the horse felt good and was enthusiastic about his chances to compete.
"I saw the replay, I saw him stumble at the start. That is somewhat bothersome but he was in contention the entire time. We have to keep digging to see if there was anything we could have done better to prevent this."
Because there has been no live racing at the Lafayette, La., track since July 20, Thacker has not been questioned by state regulators. Gardiner said stewards plan to look into the incident and talk to Thacker when live racing resumes July 24, and that the commission is conducting a thorough investigation into the incident.
The death of Monzante, winner of the grade I Eddie Read Handicap in 2008, while racing at the lowest level of American racing has created a backlash on social media. In response to an online petition, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association issued a statement reiterating the importance of racetrack participation in the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance program. Evangeline Downs is not among the 25 tracks accredited by the program.
The petition had almost 1,000 "signatures" the afternoon of July 23.
Many of those commenting on Monzante's death via social media have questioned how a horse that won a grade I race could end up being euthanized after competing for a $4,000 tag. Some have taken to task those individuals who raced and trained the gelding, who won eight of 43 starts and earned $583,929.
A son of Maria's Mon bred in Kentucky by Juddmonte Farms, Monzante began his career racing for Prince Khalid Abdullah in England; he finished third twice in four starts before he was sold for $212,867 at the 2007 Tattersalls July sale. Brought to the U.S., Monzante was trained by Mike Mitchell to win the Eddie Read and two other races for owners Scott Anastasi and Jay and Gretchen Manoogian.
After being trained by Dale Romans for four starts, Monzante was claimed by Steve Asmussen for J. Kirk Robson for $20,000 from Blue Devil Racing Stable at Saratoga Race Course in 2011. In March 2012 Monzante was claimed by Keith G. Bourgeois on behalf of Christine G. Hardy for $10,000 after finishing second in a race at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
In his next start, on May 12, 2012, he was claimed by Thacker for $10,000 after being second in a race at Evangeline Downs.
Monzante was scratched by the veterinarians after being entered in a claiming race at Evangeline Downs on June 8, according to the Equibase chart. The July 20 race was the gelding's first since finishing ninth in a claiming race Nov. 23, 2012, and he had put in two solid works leading up to the race.
Gardiner said that Monzante was removed from the vets' list and approved to race again after completing a workout and passing a required blood test for any foreign substances.
The Jockey Club Information Systems shows Thacker has saddled five winners from 41 starts by 12 different horses through July 22 of this year. According to the OwnerView.com website, Thacker has been fined for four medication violations since 2006, including positive tests for the substances dexamethasone, methylprednisolone, and prednisone.
Efforts to get a response from Evangeline Downs, which is owned by Boyd Gaming, have been unsuccessful.
Gardiner said members of the Louisiana racing commission are concerned about the Monzante incident and the subsequent social media response, noting that the state has taken efforts to strengthen its safety protocols. He said the result has been an improvement in breakdown rates, especially at Evangeline Downs.
Gardiner said the commission does support the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. "It is one more thing that could be done," he said.