WRITTEN BY JANE ALLIN
Just about everyone made money off Monzante, a gelding by champion Maria’s Mon out of the stakes winning Danzante, by champion sire Danzig.
Monzante was foaled April 28, 2004, in Kentucky, and died on Saturday, July 20, 2013, five years to the day after his greatest racing triumph, in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar.
He took his final breath after not making the course in a $4,000 claiming race at Evangeline Downs in Lafayette, La.” ~ Ray Paulick 
Sadly Monzante’s journey en route to the downward spiral that eventually led to his untimely death is not unprecedented in the world of Thoroughbred racing. Despite measures taken by the industry to prevent such incidents from happening there still remain flaws, particularly at the level of bottom-feeder claiming races. Of paramount concern is the failure of the racing industry to enforce accountability for the actions of irresponsible owners and trainers.
Unfortunately there is no provision for an owner to monitor the welfare of their horses once they have changed hands – many of whom have several owners over the course of their racing career. Perhaps a monumental task, however some semblance of awareness of these senseless tragedies that occur within the industry is surely warranted. As Steve Haskin comments in his “Hangin’ With Haskin” blog:
- “No one can expect Juddmonte, Asmussen, Romans, and Mitchell to keep track of all the horses they own or train, but it is up to individuals to see disasters like this unfolding and bring them to the awareness of the racetrack and the public before they become another black eye to racing, as this incident has become. And for all the so-called horsemen who are so careless with their horses’ lives, they must be required to provide answers before they are allowed to claim horses in the future.” 
One thing is for certain, Monzante’s fall from acclaim is a poignant chronicle replete with flagrant indicators of his declining racing abilities during the last three years of his career. Unfortunately his foreboding ruin echoed hollow to those responsible for his welfare.
In 43 starts of his racing career Monzante, a powerful gray, was a lifetime earner of $583,929 his most memorable win being the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap in 2008 ($240,000). Bred by the prestigious Juddmonte Farm owned by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Monzante raced in England prior to being sold in the 2007 Tattersalls sale to an American group of individuals — Scott Anastasi and Jay and Gretchen Manoogian. Up until early 2010 Monzante held his own competing at the top tiers of racing in America. However after finishing fifth and earning only $1,040 in an April 2010 allowance/optional claiming race at Santa Anita he was sent to the Kentucky barn of trainer Dale Romans. 
- “There were no takers that day when the gray gelding carried a $62,500 claiming tag” 
The time to hang up the reins had come – now doubtless a distant afterthought to those responsible for his welfare. Sadly, but perhaps predictably, the decent to the dime-store claimers was looming. Monzante had run his heart out up until this time and turned a $512,864 profit for his owners in the four years they had owned him.  Over the next three years until his fateful breakdown on the fifth anniversary of his Grade I Eddie Read Handicap victory he continued to race in ever-diminishing claimers at the hands of various owners and trainers yet still earning his keep and turning a profit throughout, albeit it far removed from the early glory days.
Regrettably the final claimer would drive the descent of Monzante to the lowest of the claiming ranks. After finishing second and earning $2,400 in a $10,000 claiming race at Evangeline Downs in Louisiana, Monzante was claimed by Jackie W. Thacker — this marked the end of the line, there was nowhere else to go but down.
Evangeline Downs is one of several Thoroughbred racetracks in the U.S. that is not accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance. Lax adherence to safety, welfare and veterinary examinations is commonplace at these venues simply because the horses have descended to a level no longer considered a value-added proposition — not because they are not valuable in themselves but because the human element has manipulated their worth and condemned them to an existence where they are literally running for their lives. Invariably, in their failure to perform, the slaughterhouse will be the next transition in their abbreviated lives. Likewise Jackie Thacker’s reputation is less than stellar.
- “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.”
Clearly an accident waiting to happen spawned from callousness and greed.
Thacker most decisively and deliberately raced Monzante to his death. Having raced eight times in 2012, the beautiful gray gelding finished ninth and last in his final race at Delta Downs in Vinton, La. 
Enough already! But no, Thacker was not finished with him.
A single workout — a five-furlong breeze at Evangeline Downs on June 01 — was all that prepared him for his 2013 career, if you can justifiably call it a career at that point.  The writing was on the wall.
- “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.” 
Unquestionably Monzante was spent and should have been retired long before this event. Anyone with any compassion and accountability would not have forced him to race any longer. But that did not deter Thacker.
On that fateful day in July, the last race of his career, Monzante was pulled up at the eighth pole, a brace was placed on his injured leg and he was transported by ambulance to Thacker’s barn. Despite the fact that a state veterinarian had deemed Monzante “salvageable” Thacker directed a private veterinarian to euthanize him.  Thacker denied Monsante even the simplest existence – a life he most certainly deserved – only because he became excess baggage.
No more horse, no more expenses, no more inconvenience – disposable goods, like the wrapper off a candy bar — waste, refuse, trash, garbage, junk. Squeeze every last dime out of him and sentence him to death.
“The old warrior earned $29,965 for Thacker, his final owner, after being claimed for $10,000 just over a year ago. Everyone made out alright on this deal, everyone but Monzante.” 
How pathetic his obituary reads:
“Monzante bobbled at the start, chased the early pace and stopped and was euthanized.” 
What a pitiful and lonely ending for such a magnificent horse. A horse that, at the mercy of human gluttony, was reduced to nothing more than a worn-out, beaten-down disposable object – a dilapidated machine no doubt bandaged with quick fixes of joint lubricants designed to mask pain at the expense of soundness.
But there was no requiem for Monzante. According to an investigation launched by the Louisiana Racing Commission at the behest of a number of inquiries directed toward the regulatory body, the explanation was lame. Purportedly because Monzante was on the watch list he was examined in the morning of the race by a state vet and prior to the race another vet required the horse to “jog” behind the gate prior to loading. He also asked the jockey — Carlos Lozada — his opinion as to Monzante’s soundness. Lozada stated that the horse “felt” sound. 
“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.” 
While Monzante’s recent racing history showed evidence of questionable soundness, the rules dictated the outcome. For pity’s sake – he was on a “watch list” since the previous November and was scratched just a month earlier. Simply put Monzante should have been light years from that track.
Five days after his final and tragic race the Louisiana regulators dropped the probe into Monzante’s death satisfied that the state’s policies and regulations were followed. There was no response from Evangeline and Thacker.
No one with an ounce of compassion for this horse would have permitted him to reach the depths of no return – all for a lousy $4000 – and then only contingent on his winning and a prospective claimer.
Following his breakdown and death, there was an outpouring of angry responses from within and outside of the horseracing community. So much so in fact that a petition drive on Change.org called for an investigation by the NTRA (National Thoroughbred Racing Association). Alex Waldrop, chief executive officer of the NTRA had this to say:
- “We know very little about the specific events surrounding the recent death of the gelding, Monzante, but the death of any horse while racing is a cause for concern,” Waldrop said in a July 22 statement. “The 25 racetracks accredited by the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance adhere to a rigorous set of standards and protocols to foster a safer racing environment, including pre-race veterinary examinations, post-race veterinary inspections, reporting of injuries and fatalities, post-mortem veterinarian examinations, the establishment of an injury review committee, and retirement and retraining options for owners and trainers of older and infirmed horses.” 
All well and but unfortunately this will not bring back Monzante and countless others befalling the same fate.
The question then is how and why a horse of such caliber and talent ends up in a bargain-basement claimer at a low-end racetrack where the biggest draw is the casino, races being of secondary importance with next to no concern for the welfare of the horses that race there.
Part of it may be because he was a gelding. Obviously there’s no future in the breeding shed. And with the mindset of many in the racing industry, are they willing to put them out as lawn ornaments to be admired? No, that would be frivolous. The crux of racing is a business enterprise – return on investment – the horse is simply a vehicle expected to deliver.
Monzante was a victim of unscrupulous injustice – shameful, cold and uncaring. Yet many in the racing industry will deride this opinion and revert to the tiresome “accidents happen” retort in an attempt to justify the ever-present inadequacies. While it is true there have been measures introduced to mitigate these atrocities it seems primarily in response to media exposure.
In reality Thoroughbred racing is a miasma of deceit and lies, but not unlike other racing and equestrian venues. In fact, by comparison, the prolific Quarter Horse sector of the horse industry is conceivably more malevolent as far as horse welfare – at least on the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) platform with their aggressive breeding programs and proclaimed pro-slaughter stance.
But let’s focus on the claiming race game.
I have been told that claiming races enable careers for horses — the start to a great life where altruistic opportunities await. Personally I think that is a very sad statement and feel remorse about it.
Insofar as not every horse will be the next Secretariat, there should be a modicum of respect for those that don’t “make the grade” per se. And there are many such horses. In fact only about 5% of Thoroughbred race horses will win a Graded Stakes race. 
Sadly with the glut of foals produced year after year only a scant few will truly turn a sizable profit.
Many of the remaining run at mid- to low-end claiming races the rationalization being that it serves as a venue for horses who are not particularly talented enough or who, as in Monzante’s case, have fallen through the cracks at the hands of irresponsible owners.
Broken, defeated, then dumped to recoup some losses hoping this “burden” will be claimed or worse yet shipped off to slaughter for a couple hundred dollars.
- “Today’s claiming game is designed to move inventory, and even the most revered of horsemen have found themselves relieved to have gotten rid of a problem horse.
In 2003, trainer Bobby Frankel told Hovdey that the huge purses available in claiming races discourage trainers from improving their horses and moving them up.
‘There’s less horsemanship, the way claiming is now,” Frankel had said. “But it depends on who you are, and how much you care about the animal. With a lot of guys, it’s a quick fix. You get one, you start injecting, you call the vet. Now you’ve got clenbuterol, and everything else you can stick into these horses . . . keep him for a few weeks, do everything you can to him, and you can drop him in half and still be running for a good purse. The horse is just a commodity now, like Nascar.’ ”
And just like North American racing differs from the rest of the world with its race-day drug regulations, it also differs in the way it regulates its claiming races.
- “Instead, Hovdey ventures, it would be nice if American racing could reorganize into the same format as other countries—allowing claiming level horses to find a spot where they can be competitive, without the opportunity to make short-term use of them.
“For all the changes being made in the rules,” he said, “the devil is not in the details. It’s in the culture.”
Unfortunately today the “Sport of Kings” in the U.S. is merely a financial enterprise, an investment venture which like any other reputable organization should be subject to ethical conduct with strict enforcement of penalties for what inherently amounts to cruelty and abuse. Perhaps Monzante’s abysmal fate will serve as an example — but not likely. It will simply fade from the memories of those shameless individuals who comprise the bowels of the racing industry — business as usual.
RIP Monzante — your life force will not ebb from the minds of those who care.
:: Big Purses, Sore Horses and Death; by Joe Drape, Walt Bogdanich, Rebecca R. Ruiz and Griffin Palmer; New York Times; April 30, 2012