A Derby with lightly raced colts, and lots of possibilities

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Todd Pletcher is throwing numbers at the Kentucky Derby again. Bob Baffert is seeking a fifth victory and he’s got the favorite, too. An old jinx could be disproved, and history would be written if Mendelssohn wears the garland of red roses.

The 20-horse field for Saturday’s 144th Run for the Roses includes a handful of top contenders who have been consistent this spring.

Kentucky Derby: What Time, Where to Watch, Horses, Post Times

Justify was the 7-2 favorite in early wagering Friday. Trained by Baffert, the Southern California colt, however, is green, with just three starts.

“We have a good enough horse that can win it, but it’s a very competitive race,” Baffert said. “You’re going to have to have some luck.”

Justify is undefeated and Magnum Moon is 4-0, neither having run as a 2-year-old. They’ll be trying to upend a so-called curse: No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won without racing as a juvenile.

Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon is one of four horses to be saddled by Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Derby with Always Dreaming.

Pletcher’s Audible was the co-third choice at 6-1 with Mendelssohn on Friday. Along with Magnum Moon, Vino Rosso and Noble Indy were double-digit longshots for the trainer, who is tied with mentor D. Wayne Lukas for the most Derby starters with 48.

Mendelssohn has the least amount of time on the Churchill Downs dirt than any horse in the field. The Ireland-based colt made his first appearance Thursday – drawing attention with his screeching – after spending the first part of the week in quarantine for Aidan O’Brien. The trainer is 0 for 5 at the Derby, the biggest victory to elude him.

Mendelssohn was an 18 +-length winner of the UAE Derby. His regal bloodlines and $3 million price tag suggest he would be a worthy champion, but no Europe-based horse has won the Derby.

My Boy Jack moved up to the 5-1 second choice in early wagering Friday. The closer is trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, a three-time Derby winner and Keith’s brother.

Despite Good Magic’s top-notch credentials, he was relegated to the 7-1 fifth choice on Friday. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and claimed an Eclipse Award as last year’s 2-year-old champion. The colt won the Blue Grass last month, one of six victories at six different tracks.

Getting the ideal trip in the Derby is critical, especially with the traffic from 20 horses making a chaotic charge into the first turn. Jockeys want to avoid anything that would prevent their horse from getting into rhythm, like being bumped, cut off or blocked.

“There’s so many horses in the field that seem like they have good chances to win the race with a clean trip,” said Chad Brown, who trains Good Magic. “I feel like we have one of them.”

High school dropout Mick Ruis will try to become just the third owner-trainer to win. He has Bolt d’Oro, the colt named in part for Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt. Bolt d’Oro finished second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby.

“This is the best we’ve had him,” Ruis said.

Besides Baffert, four other Hall of Fame trainers are in the race: Steve Asmussen (Combatant), Jerry Hollendorfer (Instilled Regard), Lukas (Bravazo) and Bill Mott (Hofburg). Baffert and Lukas are tied for the second-most wins with four each. None of the others has won a Derby.

Hofburg is Mott’s first Kentucky Derby runner in nine years. Hofburg has just three career starts, including a runner-up finish in the Florida Derby.

“This may be as good a chance as I’ve ever had,” Mott said. “Some of the tougher horses in the race are fairly lightly raced.”

The frequently changing forecast for Saturday calls for a chance of rain at different times during the day. Post time is 6:46 p.m.

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.”