Updated on 07/27/2013 11:01AM

Trainer says Monzante was put down because he was suffering

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, the Grade 1 winner whose euthanization after being injured in a $4,000 claiming race Saturday at Evangeline Downs has prompted a national discussion about racehorse safety and retirement, was sound going into the race, according to his trainer, and was put down only after his condition worsened after being transported to the track’s backstretch.

Jackie Thacker, the owner and trainer who claimed the horse for $10,000 at Evangeline Downs on May 5, 2012, said the horse suffered an injury to his right-front sesamoids, the small bones located at the back of a horse’s fetlock.

Thacker said he decided to have the 9-year-old Monzante euthanized after consulting with a private veterinarian and his wife, Geraldine, after the horse appeared to be “in a lot of pain” when the sedatives administered to the horse immediately following the race wore off.

“Sometimes you got to make that call,” Thacker, 63, said. “I didn’t want to see him suffer anymore, and neither did my wife. Lord knows we loved that horse. He’d been good to me. It was like he was part of the family. It was my call.”

Thacker said that while deliberating over the decision, his wife researched the injury on her tablet computer and pulled up an article about the horse Bellacourt, a stakes winner who suffered a similar sesamoid injury while training in November 2011 and was euthanized one month later following multiple surgeries.

“They tried to save her, but they couldn’t,” Thacker said.

Thacker had not responded to multiple voice-mail messages until Wednesday. He said he was not ready to discuss the situation until Wednesday morning, and he noted that he had followed the intense reaction to news of the horse’s death.

When asked if he could have done anything different with the horse, Thacker said: “I don’t know what I could have done. If I could have, I would have done it. It’s a bad situation. I hate it just as much as anybody.”

Monzante, who won the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap in 2008, had been claimed three times in the past two years. Bred by Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms and raced six times in England as a 2-year-old for Juddmonte, he was sold at a horses-of-racing-age sale in England in 2007 for $212,867.

Owners Scott Anastasi and Jay and Gretchen Manoogian raced him from 2008 until the summer of 2011 under trainer Mike Mitchell. Under their ownership, he won the Eddie Read and finished sixth in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf. The partnership eventually lost him for $20,000 in a 2011 claiming race at Saratoga to new owner J. Kirk Robson.

Monzante was claimed again in March 2012 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans by Christine G. Hardy and trainer Keith G. Bourgeois. Thacker claimed the horse several months later and raced him eight times in 2012 until he “had a bad race” on Nov. 23, 2012, at Delta Downs, Thacker said.
Along the way, Monzante won eight of 43 career starts for earnings of $583,929.

Thacker said he dropped Monzante into the $4,000 claiming race to make the horse eligible for $5,000 starter allowances on turf in Louisiana.

“He would have whupped those types of horses,” Thacker said. “He always tried.”

Thacker said Monzante was administered an 8-cubic-centimeter shot of phenylbutazone, a painkiller, approximately 36 hours prior to the Saturday race. In Louisiana, it is legal to administer the drug outside of 24 hours from a race. Monzante also was administered a shot of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide and the adjunct bleeding medication carbazachrome, an anti-hemorrhaging drug also known as “Kentucky Red,” at four hours to post time, in line with state regulations.

Thacker has been fined four times for violating medication rules in Louisiana since 2007. In one case that year, a horse he trained tested positive for three different corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory drugs commonly used in racing but highly regulated. Thacker said he did not administer any corticosteroids to Monzante in the days preceding the race.

Thacker said the only soundness issue he had encountered with Monzante while training the horse was a “suspensory” that he said had healed and was present when he claimed the horse. A suspensory injury is one that affects the ligament in a horse’s leg. It is a common injury to horses and requires rest to heal, though the injury often is difficult to fully repair.

Thacker said he gave Monzante time off after the November race at Delta Downs to allow the horse to rest. “I wanted to give him a break,” Thacker said. He said he brought him back “slowly,” giving him two workouts, one in May and one in June – he claimed the May workout was not recorded – and sending him out for “four or five two-minute licks” to get him into racing shape.

Thacker acknowledged in the interview that he was charged with six counts of animal cruelty in 1990. However, he said the charges were withdrawn and he was cleared of all the counts after investigators determined that he was not responsible for the horses in question. He said the horses were owned by another person who shipped them to his farm sight unseen, and that they arrived at the farm in poor condition.

“When they found out the truth, everything was dropped,” Thacker said.

The clerk of court’s office in Rapides Parish, La., where the charges were filed, said it had no records to indicate that charges were pursued in the case. “If they went ahead with the case, we would have that on file,” the clerk said.

Thacker said he owns 16 horses, including several 2-year-olds who have not started. He has been training since the 1980s, he said. His record this year is five wins from 41 starts.

Some of the controversy surrounding Monzante has been spurred by the state veterinarian’s determination that the horse was “salvageable,” according to interviews conducted by the Louisiana Racing Commission, which is investigating the incident. Thacker said he had read those statements and disagreed with the assessment after the horse started showing signs of distress after being transported off the track and to the barn area.

“I saw where they said he was salvageable,” Thacker said. “That’s not what we saw. We saw a horse that was in a lot of pain, that was suffering. I’ve got to live with that. It was my call, and I stand by it.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly identified an adjunct anti-bleeding medication administered to Monzante. It was carbazochrome, not amicar.