Haskell field includes Derby, Preakness winners

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OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) Leaving Monmouth Park hours after Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s triumphant return to the races in last year’s Haskell Invitational, track president Bob Kulina already was thinking ahead.

The guy who has been around the Jersey shore track since the early 1970s knew nothing could top the spectacle of American Pharoah: 60,000 fans standing and cheering as the champion charged down the stretch in his first race as the first Triple Crown champion in 37 years.

Kulina, though, caught some racing luck for Sunday’s 49th running of the Haskell: Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist vs. Preakness winner Exaggerator, with Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert in the mix with American Freedom.

“I have to tell the truth,” Kulina said this week. “A year ago Sunday driving home, if you told me I was looking at this type of race the year after American Pharoah’s Triple Crown and Haskell victory, I would have said `Sign me up now.”‘

There’s plenty of storylines:

– The Nyquist-Exaggerator rivalry resumes. Nyquist won the first four meetings, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Derby. Exaggerator ended the streak – and any chance for another Triple Crown try – by handing Nyquist the only loss of his career in the Preakness.

– Baffert has won five of the last six Haskells and is seeking a ninth win in Monmouth Park’s showcase race.

– It’s the first time the top three Derby finishers – Nyquist, Exaggerator and Gun Runner- are running in the Haskell. It’s the first time since 2010 that it’s Derby winner vs. Preakness winner.

– On the local front, trainers and brothers-in-law Eddie Plesa Jr. and Jason Servis will saddle long shots Awesome Slew and New Jersey-bred Sunny Ridge. Sunny Ridge is bred and owned by Dennis Drazin, an advisor to the group that operates the track.

“You couldn’t have asked for a better field or a greater race,” Kulina said.

While anticipation builds for the 1 1/8-mile Haskell, there’s another race for 3-year-olds worth noting on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course – the $600,000 Jim Dandy. The field includes Belmont Stakes winner Creator, along with one-time Derby favorite Mohaymen, who ran fourth and hasn’t raced since.

Nyquist was made the 6-5 morning-line favorite for the six-horse Haskell, with Exaggerator next at 5-2. The Derby winner leaves from the rail; the Preakness winner from the outside post.

This will be Nyquist’s first race since running third in the Preakness on May 21. He then developed an elevated white blood cell count and was returned to his home base at Santa Anita. Trainer Doug O’Neill now says his colt is ready to go again.

“He’s doing really well. His last few works have been exceptional,” O’Neill said. “We’re coming into this race with a lot of optimism. For a six-horse field, it’s very deep.”

Nyquist, owned by J. Paul Reddam, is the reigning 2-year-old champion and has eight wins in nine career starts for earnings of $5.1 million.

Exaggerator, trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by his brother, Kent, finished 11th in the Belmont but appears charged up again for the Haskell.

His entry was a surprise since he’s been training at Saratoga, with plans calling for him to run in the Jim Dandy, then the Travers on Aug. 27. The Travers could be next for Nyquist, too.

“Those kinds of things are always fun,” Keith Desormeaux said of the rivalry. “Nyquist is a top horse and it’s always fun to outrun top competition.”

O’Neill called it kind of “a shock” when he found out Exaggerator was Haskell-bound.

“He’s such a hard-trying horse and a class horse. His move in the Preakness was stunning,” O’Neill said. “We’ve faced him a bunch. We respect him a ton.”

Look for Nyquist, under jockey Mario Gutierrez, to be on or close to the lead. Exaggerator relishes a late charge to the wire, and splashed his way to victory in the Preakness.

Baffert comes into the Haskell quietly, unlike last year’s Pharoah Fest. American Freedom was the 3-1 third choice, coming in with wins in the Sir Barton Stakes and the Iowa Derby. Gun Runner is 4-1, Awesome Slew 15-1 and Sunny Ridge 20-1.

Plesa understands what he’s facing in sending out long shot Awesome Slew.

“I feel like David fighting Goliath in this race when you look at these horses,” he said.

The field, from the rail out, is Nyquist (Mario Gutierrez, 6-5), Sunny Ridge (Nik Juarez, 20-1), Awesome Slew (Paco Lopez, 15-1), Gun Runner (Florent Geroux, 4-1), American Freedom (Rafael Bejarano, 3-1) and Exaggerator (Kent Desormeaux, 5-2).

 

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.”