Connect by a head over Divining Rod in Big A’s Cigar Mile

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NEW YORK (AP) Connect beat Divining Rod by a head at the end of a stretch duel Saturday in the $500,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

A late developing 3-year-old facing older horses for the first time in a stakes race, Connect won for the fifth time in six starts this season. Ridden by Javier Castellano and trained by Chad Brown, the Pennsylvania Derby winner was part of a four-horse battle turning for home. It turned into a two-horse contest as Connect and Divining Rod pulled away from the pack in the final furlong.

Divining Rod held the slightest advantage until Connect pushed on in the final strides.

“It was an exciting race,” Brown said. “This is such a nice horse. Javier really rode him good. He had to move a little earlier than he wanted and he got a bit of a wide trip, but he knew how to time it just right.”

It was the first race for Connect since the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 24. Brown opted to give the colt a break after that race.

“There is always a risk doing that,” Brown said. “He could be a little short, but he had just enough today and got it done at a mile.”

Arnaud Delacour, Divining Rod’s trainer, took the tough-luck defeat in stride.

“I thought it was a great stretch run from both horses,” he said. “I think Connect is a great horse, so I’m thrilled.”

Connect paid $5, $3.30 and $2.80 as the 3-2 favorite.

Divining Rod returned $5.10 and $4.90 and Realm paid $7 to show.

The time was 1:35.34 in the final Grade 1 stakes of the year in New York

Connect earned $300,000 for the win, lifting his career earnings to $1.25 million for owner Paul Pompa Jr.

On the undercard, Mo Town stepped up from his maiden win to take $300,000 Remsen Stakes for 2-year-olds.

With the victory, he also moved into next year’s Triple Crown picture.

The son of Uncle Mo is 2 for 3 for trainer Tony Dutrow. The latest was a very professional effort by an inexperienced colt.

After Takaful, the 4-5 favorite, opened a big lead down the backstretch, jockey John Velazquez and Mo Town made a decisive move from fourth into second, narrowing the gap right behind the leader.

Mo Town took over from Takaful in the final eighth of a mile and pulled clear to a 2 1/2 length score over No Dozing. Takaful was third.

Mo Town paid $10.40 to win.

– Paco Lopez rode a pair of upset stakes winners.

He rallied Verve’s Tale rallied past 3-5 favorite Lewis Bay for a 20-1 upset in the $250,000 Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

After losing her first seven races, Verve’s Tale has now won two straight. She prevailed by a neck, paying $43.60 to win for trainer Barclay Tagg.

Lopez reversed tactics in the $300,000 Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies, posting a front-running victory aboard 5-1 shot Miss Sky Warrior.

She held off Jamyson `n Ginger, the 9-5 choice, by a half-length. It was her third straight win for trainer Kelly Breen.

Miss Sky Warrior paid $13.20 to win.

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 on Saturday 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.”