Racing Hall of Fame: Rachel, Zenyatta, Dominguez, Asmussen

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Steve Asmussen hit the jackpot seven years ago with Rachel Alexandra. Soon, they’ll be together again — in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.

Sort of difficult for the 50-year-old trainer from South Dakota to believe.

“In horse racing, it’s unique in the fact that you go in (to the Hall of Fame) while you’re still doing it and being honored,” Asmussen said Monday at Churchill Downs, where he’s training Kentucky Derby hopefuls Gun Runner and Creator. “I feel like we’re just in the middle of the career, in the middle of what we’re going to get done. Just very blessed with the opportunities we have and continue to be given, and will try to make the best of them.”

Rachel Alexander was a special horse. She was the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924 and had 13 wins in 19 starts, earning $3.5 million.

“To be able to go in with Rachel is special, and then some,” added Asmussen, who ranks second all-time with more than 7,280 wins and fourth in earnings with $241 million since starting his training career in 1986.

Also elected Monday were jockey Ramon Dominguez, whose career was cut short by injury, and champion racehorse Zenyatta, who won 19 of 20 starts and earned $7.3 million.

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It was as a 3-year-old that Rachel Alexandra zoomed to stardom, winning all eight of her starts in 2009. The wins came at seven different tracks, starting with a victory in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park. She then won the Fair Grounds Oaks and Fantasy Stakes before her 20 1/4-length win in the Kentucky Oaks.

Rachel Alexandra defeated Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness. She then romped by 19 1/4 lengths in the Mother Goose, defeated Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird in the Haskell Invitational by six lengths and topped older males in a dramatic Woodward victory at Saratoga to conclude her undefeated campaign.

The 39-year-old Dominguez, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, won 4,985 races and $191,620,277 from 1996-2013 before suffering a fractured skull in a spill in January 2013. His mount, Convocation, stumbled and fell in a race at Aqueduct, pitching Dominguez onto the winterized inner track.

The injury ended an impressive career.

Dominguez, who had the 20-year requirement for induction waived because of the injury, captured the Eclipse Award three straight times (2010-12) and led all North American riders in earnings each of those years, setting a record of $25,639,432 in 2012. He also won 20 meet riding titles on the New York Racing Association circuit, including a record 68 wins at Saratoga in 2012.

Zenyatta won 17 graded stakes, including 13 Grade 1s, and was undefeated until her final start, losing to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Still, she had earnings of $1,830,000 and was named Horse of the Year in 2010.

Induction is Aug. 12 in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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.”