Stakes races highlight Keeneland’s spring opening weekend

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are up for grabs this weekend as Keeneland begins its 16-day spring meet.

The historic, picturesque track opens Friday and will feature five of this month’s 16 stakes races worth $4.225 million on Saturday. The marquee events are the $1 million Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass and $500,000 Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland for fillies, both of which offer 170 points toward next month’s Derby and Oaks at Churchill Downs. The winners get 100 points.

Zulu, one of three Blue Grass entrants trained by three-time race winner Todd Pletcher, has 20 Derby points and is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the 14-horse field for 3-year-olds.

Pletcher’s other horses are Donegal Moon, a 5-1 choice starting from the No. 2 post, and Cards of Stone.

Zulu arrived at Keeneland on Tuesday from South Florida and galloped a second time Thursday with Donegal Moon in preparation for the 1 1/8-mile race on dirt.

“He had a nice gallop around the track, a mile and an eighth, and went back and stood in the gate,” assistant Tristan Barry said of Zulu’s workout. “Did that very well.”

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Unbeaten Cathryn Sophia is even money leading a five-horse field in the 1 1/16 mile Central Bank Ashland. She has been impressive in both Grade 2 starts this year, winning the Davona Dale Stakes by seven lengths and the Forward Gal Stakes by 5 1/2.

Trainer John Servis is just as encouraged about Cathryn Sophia’s chances after Sunday’s workout.

“She worked super here and likes the track,” he said. “This will be her first time going two turns and should she get the job done, it would give her a lot of confidence going into the Kentucky Oaks. And me, too.”

Rachel’s Valentina, another Pletcher pupil, is the 3-1 second choice; she was second in last fall’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland. Also entered are Carina Mia (7-5), Weep No More (20-1) and Banree (20-1).

Another notable Grade 1 stakes race is the $300,000 Madison for fillies and mares, which features Breeders’ Cup winners StopchargingMaria and Wavell Avenue.

“That’s an ungodly race,” oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said of the 13-horse Madison field. “You love to see a race like that.”

Keeneland will race Wednesdays through Sundays through April 29.

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.”

Fractional interest in Flightline sells for $4.6 million

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keeneland says a 2.5% fractional interest in Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Flightline has sold for $4.6 million during a special auction before the start of its November Breeding Stock Sale.

Brookdale Farm’s Freddy Seitz signed the ticket for an undisclosed client, the track announced in a release. The sale comes a day after ownership of the 4-year-old son of Tapit retired the unbeaten colt following his record 8\-length victory in Saturday’s $6 million, Grade 1 Classic at Keeneland. Flightline likely locked up Horse of the Year honors with his fourth Grade 1 victory in six starts by a combined victory margin of 71 lengths – dominance that has drawn comparisons to legendary Triple Crown champion Secretariat.

Flightline will begin his breeding career next year at Lane’s End Farms in Versailles, Kentucky, but a stud fee has yet to be determined. West Point Thoroughbreds, part of the bay colt’s ownership, offered the fractional interest. Seitz said the buyer wanted to “make a big splash” and get more involved in the business.

“With a special horse like (Flightline) all you can do is get involved and then just hope for the best,” Seitz said in the release.

“There has never been a horse that has done what he has done for however many years, back to Secretariat. You just have to pay up and get involved, and this is kind of what he’s thinking.”