Horses died in consecutive races at Belmont Park, dealing more untimely blows to the beleaguered sport, which had little time to celebrate its most uplifting events of the year.
Mashnee Girl, trained by Mark Hennig, broke down in the first race Sunday, suffering a catastrophic injury to her left front leg at the storied racecourse in Elmont, just outside New York City, before she was put down.
“Despite the immediate response and best efforts of on-site attending veterinarians, the horse was humanely euthanized due to the severity of the injury,” New York Racing Association Vice President Patrick McKenna said in a statement.
Both incidents happened on Belmont’s turf course as the field was nearing the top of the stretch.
“I’m not holding up very well,” an emotional Hennig told NBC News, sniffling throughout the conversation. “It’s been very emotional. I just can’t fathom this ever happening, two horses you run in a row. I mean, I’ve run over 10,000 horses and have never had anything close to this.”
The animal rights group PETA was quick to blame Belmont for the twin deaths.
“Two dead Thoroughbreds in two days with the same trainer on the same track means one thing: Belmont Park is failing to protect horses,” PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said in a statement. “Like Churchill Downs, Belmont must suspend racing immediately to avoid the same bloodbath. Anything less makes Belmont complicit in the fatalities.”
McKenna said that including Mashnee Girl and Excursionniste, four horses have died during races at Belmont Park’s spring/summer meet, which began May 4 and has encompassed 1,670 horses starting in 214 races.
“NYRA’s comprehensive safety strategy is informed by the most advanced science and research in consultation with independent experts, veterinarians, and horsemen,” he said. “The health and safety of horses and jockeys competing at NYRA tracks is our highest priority and one that stands above all other considerations.”
Mashnee Girl and Excursionniste had clean bills of health with no concern for racing, Hennig said.
“Neither one of them has been on a vet’s list. They’re clean-legged horses,” Hennig said. “It’s just horrible, horrible, horrible luck. These horses were in good, sound racing condition. These two horses never had issues with these ankles, the same ankles that fractured.”
Saturday’s Belmont Stakes capped a tumultuous five weeks of racing that normally shines a bright light on the sport of kings. Instead, a string of untimely death raised questions about the sport’s viability.
A week ago Friday, Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the host of the Kentucky Derby, announced it had temporarily stopped racing to investigate its recent deaths.
And shortly before National Treasure won the Preakness, the ordinarily party-filled day at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore was overshadowed by tragedy when Havnameltdown broke down at the top of the stretch of the $200,000 Grade III Chick Lang Stakes and was put down.
David K. Li is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.