Updated on 07/26/2013 8:33AM

Monzante deemed 'salvageable' before being put down, regulator says

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Tom Keyser
Grade 1 winner Monzante, seen winning a claiming race at Belmont Park in October 2011, was euthanized Saturday night after suffering an injury in a race at Evangeline Downs.

Monzante, a Grade 1 winner who was euthanized Saturday after suffering an injury in a $4,000 claiming race at Evangeline Downs, was not put down on the track, as indicated by the chart of the race, but was euthanized after being sent back to the barn of his trainer after a state veterinarian had determined that the horse was “salvageable,” according to the Louisiana Racing Commission, which is investigating the incident.

Charles Gardiner, the LRC’s executive director, said two state vets had examined Monzante prior to the race and determined that the horse was sound. After the horse was pulled up by jockey Carlos Lozada at the eighth pole, a state vet put a brace on the horse’s injured leg and directed the ambulance to return Monzante to the barn of Jackie W. Thacker, the owner and trainer who had claimed Monzante for $10,000 on May 5, 2012, in a race at Evangeline Downs.

Thacker then directed a private veterinarian to euthanize the horse, Gardiner said.

“In the opinion of our vet, the horse was salvageable,” Gardiner said. “Maybe not for racing anymore, but he was salvageable.”

Veterinarians typically use the term “salvageable” to mean that a horse may be capable of surviving an injury “with aggressive treatment,” according to Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. She said the salvaged horse is typically one “with a life of very limited options.”

“To me, ‘salvageable’ means pasture-sound, with very limited functionality,” Scollay said, stressing that she did not know any details about the injury suffered by Monzante. “There are lots of quality-of-life issues that go with that.”

According to regulatory records, Thacker has been fined four times since 2007 for medication violations. In one case, a horse he trained tested positive for three drugs – methylprednisolone, prednisone, and dexamethasone, which are all anti-inflammatories. Such corticosteroids are highly regulated in racing because of their ability to reduce pain.

In addition, a Louisiana licensee with the name Jackie Wade Thacker was charged with six counts of animal cruelty in 1990 after “three emaciated horses were taken from his farm and the bodies of three others were found,” according to a news article from the time. It is unclear if Thacker was convicted of the charges.

Gardiner said he was trying to determine if the two individuals were the same person. The 1990 news article by the Associated Press said Thacker was able to retain his training license because the charges “were not related to racing.”

Thacker, who has started 41 horses this year, has not responded to multiple voice mails left since Monday.

The death of Monzante, a 9-year-old gelding, has drawn heated responses from within and outside the horse-racing community. The winner of the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap in 2008 and a lifetime earner of $583,929, Monzante switched barns three times in the past two years through the claim box as his racing ability seemed to erode.

Gardiner said the horse had been placed on a veterinary “watch list” after passing the requirements to get off the vet’s list following a poor performance in November at Fair Grounds while under Thacker’s care. The horse was scratched from a $5,000 claiming race June 8 at Evangeline after a private vet reported that the horse was exhibiting signs of colic, according to Gardiner. The scratch resulted in the horse being placed on a three-day vet list.

Monzante was examined the morning of the race by a state vet, who applied stricter standards to the examination because the horse was on the watch list, Gardiner said. In addition, a state vet required the horse to jog behind the gate prior to being loaded, and the state vet also asked the jockey for his opinion on the horse’s soundness as a precaution, according to Gardiner. Lozada responded that the horse felt sound, Gardiner said.

“Everything that could have been done was done,” Gardiner said. “We are not able to prevent a horse from running if he passes the soundness exams, and, in fact, the state vets took extra measures on this horse because he was on the list.”

Gardiner said the commission is in the initial stages of the investigation and hasn’t been able to interview Thacker yet. He said he did not know the exact nature of the injury Monzante suffered during the race, though he expected his chief vet to report on the injury after arriving at Evangeline late Tuesday.