Aging Pimlico strains to keep its grip on Preakness

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BALTIMORE (AP) It’s Preakness week, so Pimlico Race Course is adorned with fresh flowers, coated in bright paint and filled with the anticipation that comes with hosting the state’s biggest sporting event of the year.

The new foliage and slick paint can’t mask the fact that 147-year-old Pimlico is showing its age. Known affectionately as Old Hilltop, this old track has been trying for years to fend off the inevitable conclusion that it’s badly in need of a serious makeover.

Sal Sinatra, president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, attended the Preakness post-position draw Wednesday. The event was held inside a lavish tent, where jockeys, trainers and high-rollers downed good food and mixed drinks.

Everyone appeared to have a good time. Sinatra can only hope that’s the case on Preakness day.

Click here to stream the 2017 Preakness Stakes on NBC Sports

“We just need to have a nice facility,” he said. “We’ll be sitting on pins and needles Saturday, thinking, `What’s going to break today?’

“We don’t have the sky boxes. These tents are nice, but not everybody has the luxury of spending $1.5 (million) on a tent. We have to have the right spot, the right venue to have the Super Bowl here in Maryland, basically.”

The Maryland Stadium Authority recently released a study that it could take anywhere from $248 million to $321 million to renovate the facility. If that doesn’t happen, well, the Stronach Group, which owns the facility, has said it would consider moving the Preakness to nearby Laurel Park.

Not so fast, says the governor of Maryland.

“Governor (Larry) Hogan has made it clear that he wants to see the Preakness stay in Baltimore,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said Wednesday. “The next phase of the Maryland Stadium Authority study will soon be under way, and the governor looks forward to seeing the results.”

So does Sinatra.

“Is it $300 million, is it $500 million, and then where does the money come from?” he said.

Pimlico opened for racing on Oct. 25, 1870. The track introduced the Preakness in 1873 – two years before the Kentucky Derby – and it has been held annually in Baltimore since 1909.

Though Pimlico has undergone many changes over the years, it still looks very much as it did in the 20th century. The grandstand, the stakes barns and the jockeys’ quarters are serviceable but not ideal.

Laurel recently had a $30 million facelift and now appears far newer and fresher. According to Maryland state law, however, the Preakness must be run at Pimlico unless there is “some type of emergency.”

Also, there’s something to be said for the tradition of running a Triple Crown race at a track that once hosted Seabiscuit, Man O’ War, Secretariat and Seattle Slew.

“I do love history, and this is a beautiful place,” said Mark Casse, trainer of Preakness entrant Classic Empire.

But does tradition mean that much at a place in such obvious disrepair?

“You’d love to see Pimlico have the Preakness forever, but you also have to embrace modernization,” said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. “Sometimes it’s a delicate balance of tradition and forward thinking.”

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AP Writer Brian Witte contributed to this report.

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.”