Helwan, a 4-year-old colt from France making his first start in the United States, broke down in the backstretch during the fourth race at Belmont Park on Saturday and had to be euthanized. Jose Ortiz pulled his injured horse up at the three-eighths pole and then walked off the track after attendants arrived.
The New York Racing Authority, in confirming the euthanization, said Helwan had broken his left front cannon bone.
"He was making a perfect run," Ortiz said. "He made two jumps and then switched [his] lead [leg] and broke down. There's nothing else to say about it."
Chad Brown, the horse's New York-based trainer, would not comment after the race.
The horse was racing in the Jaipur Invitational, a Grade III six-furlong stakes on the turf. Helwan, a French-bred owned by Al Shaqab Racing, had last raced in France on Oct. 7, 2014. Al Shaqab is a large racing operation based in Qatar.
Helwan was taken off the track in a van after a screen had been raised to block views of the horse as it was tended to and subsequently euthanized.
The horse had won three of eight races lifetime. It was the first time Helwan was running on Lasix, a common anti-diuretic in the horse racing world that combats bleeding in the lungs. The 12 other horses in the race were all listed as running on Lasix.
"It certainly is a tragedy that a horse who has never had to race on Lasix is suddenly on the medication and dies the same day," said Kathy Guillermo, a vice president of the animal activist group PETA.
Helwan's was the second race-related equine death at Belmont Park in less than a month. Soul House collapsed May 30 in the unsaddling area and later died.
"This is the great shame of American racing, I believe," Guillermo said. "American racing is all about drugs and medication and the European horses that come over here, the [owners] feel they have a competitive disadvantage if they don't also use race day medication."
Seven of the eight horses in the Belmont Stakes, including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, were running on Lasix. Mubtaahij was the only horse not to do so.
"It's a sad thing to hear," said Julio Heredia, 55, a spectator who said he is a former jockey from Queens Village and that he had a horse break down on him during a race in 1987 at Laurel in Maryland.
"It's a lot of pain," he said. His horse "did the best he could right up to the end. I could see the bone coming out from the ankle and I was lucky, because he didn't fall down. I was able to walk away [unhurt]."
"And when you get to know the horse, they're smart. They know what's going on. I felt so bad."
Another fan, Patricia Malon, 81, of Stewart Manor said: "It's very sad, especially on a beautiful day like today."
With Laura Albanese and Joan Gralla