DERBY PREPS: Little-known 3-year-olds get a Derby chance

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Mohaymen, check.

Nyquist, check.

Both unbeaten colts are already qualified for the Kentucky Derby thanks to previous victories, but the Florida Derby on Saturday is likely a last chance for the other eight horses in the field to earn a shot at the Run for the Roses.

A total of 170 Derby qualifying points are at stake — 100 to the winner, 50 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.

In the weekend’s other prep, the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, 85 points are on the line. None of the 12 3-year-olds entered, including favorite Airoforce, have enough points to qualify for the Derby entering the race.

Mohaymen is a slight favorite over Nyquist in the most anticipated Derby prep of the season. Mohaymen has 70 points; Nyquist 30. In the past, 20 points usually has been enough to qualify for a Derby field limited to 20 starters.

Trainer Dale Romans is sending out 20-1 long shot Takeittotheedge in the Florida Derby in just the second start of his career. He won his debut a few weeks ago at Gulfstream Park, and a third-place finish could make him Derby-eligible.

“This is the time of year, and this is a really good horse,” Romans said. “It’s a strong Florida Derby field — you’ve got the two best horses in the country. They usually all wait until they get to Kentucky, so it’s going to be very interesting.

“But we have a horse with a lot of talent. It’s the time of year — you’d hate to have him run big in just an allowance race.”

And you never know. In the 2005 Belmont Stakes, Romans’ winless Nolan’s Cat finished third behind Afleet Alex and Andromeda’s Hero.

As for the much anticipated Mohaymen-Nyquist showdown, both trainers are eager to see what happens. There’s added incentive for Nyquist owner J. Paul Reddam, who purchased the colt at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Florida sale. In addition to the $600,000 winner’s share of the $1 million purse on the line, there’s a $1 million bonus for any horse winning the Florida Derby that came out of that sale.

“Bonuses are great anytime,” Mohaymen trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “I think it’s great that we have the two best colts in the country racing against each other Saturday. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often. It’s a plus for the industry and it’s a plus for the owner and trainer, if they happen to win it Saturday.”

The Florida Derby field, from the rail out, is Sawyers Mickey, Fellowship, Majesto, Nyquist, Copingaway, Chovanes, Takeittotheedge, Fashionable Freddy, Mohaymen and Isofass.

Airoforce, with 10 Derby qualifying points, comes into the Spiral off a 10th place finish in the Risen Star in his only 3-year-old start. Trainer Mark Casse is hoping for a return to form that saw his colt run second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and then win the Kentucky Jockey Club.

The field for the Spiral, from the rail out, is That Makes Sense, Surgical Strike, Jensen, Don’t Be So Salty, Oscar Nominated, Two Step Time, Strike Up the Band, Kasseopia, Swagger Jagger, Airoforce, Ralis and Azar. Also eligible, in case any in the full field are scratched, are Crescent Drive and Diplodocus.

The biggest Derby prep weekend is April 9, with three races — the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park.

Irad Ortiz sets single-season record with 77th stakes win

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NEW YORK – Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. earned his record 77th single-season North American stakes victory when he guided Dr B to victory in the $200,000 Go for Wand at Aqueduct.

The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico broke the old mark of 76 set by the late Hall of Fame rider Garrett Gomez in 2007.

“This is great. Amazing feeling,” said Ortiz, Jr., who won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey from 2018-20. “Gomez did it in 2007 and he was a great rider, one of the best in the game. I’m so happy just to be a part of this. I love this sport.”

Ortiz Jr. won the Belmont Stakes with Mo Donegal in June to go with Breeders’ Cup victories in the Juvenile, Filly & Mare Sprint and Sprint. He also earned nine other Grade 1 wins in New York, including Life Is Good in the Woodward and Whitney and Nest in the Alabama and Coaching Club Oaks. He won riding titles at Belmont’s spring-summer meet and Saratoga’s summer meet.

Ortiz Jr. leads North American riders with 304 overall victories this year. His purse earnings totaled over $35.8 million going into Saturday’s races, which already surpassed his single-season record of $34.1 million in 2019.

Appeals court strikes down federal horseracing rules act

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NEW ORLEANS — Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, or HISA, is “facially unconstitutional.”

The authority created by the act was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit – in two rulings issued Friday – ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject HISA regulations, but it can’t modify them. And the authority can reject proposed modifications.

Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act – including the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states – that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.

“A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.

The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King and Kurt Engelhardt, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging HISA in a different case.

The chair of the horseracing authority’s board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit court of the Supreme Court.

“If today’s ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until January 10, 2023 at the earliest,” Charles Scheeler said in an email. “We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing, including the launch of HISA’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program on January 1, 2023.”

The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. “Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission’s limited oversight was sufficient,” Irby said in an email.

Among the subjects covered by the authority’s rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation, and the reporting of training and veterinary records.

Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to scandals in the industry involving medication and the treatment of horses.

Duncan wrote that in declaring HISA unconstitutional, “we do not question Congress’s judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling HISA a “federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing.”