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George Washington breaks down in Classic stretch

10/29/2007

OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Barbaro's owners endured more tragedy at the track when the colt they bred broke down Saturday in the Breeders' Cup -- the second year in a row thoroughbred racing's big event was marred by a fatal accident.

On a day when even casual fans tune in for the sport's version of the Super Bowl, European star George Washington broke his leg in the stretch and was immediately euthanized.

Jockey Mick Kinane pulled up his mount at the rear of the nine-horse field as Curlin dashed to a 4 1/2 -length victory on the sloppy track at Monmouth Park.

George Washington fractured his cannon bone -- "a hopeless injury," said Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian.

It's the type of tragedy that occurred twice last year.

In the Breeders' Cup Distaff, Pine Island broke down and was euthanized and Fleet Indian sustained a career-ending injury at Churchill Downs.

And then there was Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who broke his leg early in the Preakness and was euthanized eight months later.

Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who spent millions of dollars trying to keep Barbaro alive, were the breeders of the European colt. And, indeed, George Washington helped make their Derby win with Barbaro extra special by winning the 2000 Guineas -- the opening leg of the English classics -- the same day.

"When you're at the extreme, extreme things happen," said Curlin's trainer Steve Asmussen. "At this level, they are going for all they can and then a little bit more."

As George Washington skittered a few steps while lifting up his injured leg, workers rushed to him and surrounded the 4-year-old colt with brown screens that blocked the view of the crowd. The horse ambulance quickly appeared and maneuvered into position as 41,781 fans watched in silence.

The workers managed to load George Washington into the ambulance under the cover of the screens.

"He broke one sesamoid (bone) and then dislocated the ankle to the side. That destroys the blood supply, which makes this such a difficult injury," Bramlage said.

George Washington was fifth at the half-mile pole, then dropped back to seventh before getting hurt in the stretch.

"Typically these injuries occur in the last part of the race," said C. Wayne McIlwraith, another on-call veterinarian working the event. "They are more fatigued, so they have got less support to the joint."

Kinane slid off near the colt's neck and held the reins as help moved in.

"He did well to stay up. He was brave," Kinane said. "He stayed up on it. He saved me."

The Classic was just George Washington's second race on dirt; his first was in last year's Classic at Churchill Downs, where he was sixth.

"He could have had trouble with being less coordinated on (dirt), as he's used to racing on grass," McIlwraith said. "We talk a lot now about investigating the cause of these fractures, minor incoordination or just not landing on the leg exactly the same way as a horse that's completely used to that surface does."

George Washington wasn't even supposed to race anymore. He was retired at the end of last year with plans to go to stud, but was found to be infertile and put back into training.

For Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien it was one of the worst days of his career. Before George Washington went down, his other horse, Dylan Thomas, faded to fifth in the $3 million Turf as the wagering favorite.

George Washington won six of 13 career starts and earned more than $1.4 million racing mostly in Europe for owners Susan Magnier of Ireland and Englishmen Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.