Churchill Downs’ next project to offer rooftop views of Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs is adding rooftop views to its lineup of high-dollar seating for the Kentucky Derby.

The track’s parent company said Friday that a new rooftop garden offering prime spots overlooking the start of America’s most famous horse race will be ready in time for next year’s Derby in early May.

The rooftop lounge, to be situated atop the Starting Gate Suites on the north end of the famed track, will provide covered reserved seating for more than 250 fans and standing-room-only access for about 250 more ticketholders, Churchill Downs Inc. said.

The new space will feature upscale bars and food in a “cozy” and “party-like atmosphere,” Churchill said.

“Rooftop bars are a hot trend in the hospitality industry, and the addition of this sensational new space … will be a great benefit to our facility and deliver another unique guest experience at Churchill Downs,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack.

Churchill did not disclose Derby ticket prices for the addition, saying ticketing information will be available later this year.

The lounge will include a tiered balcony overlooking the section of track where Derby horses break from the starting gate and, after looping the track, jockey for position at the top of the homestretch on their way to the finish. It also will offer panoramic views of Louisville, the track said.

Construction will begin after Churchill hosts the Breeders’ Cup in early November.

The $5 million rooftop project is the latest in a series of upgrades at the track in the past two decades, meant to maximize revenue from the Derby and Kentucky Oaks, a race for 3-year-old fillies the day before the Derby. The venerable track seems to burst at the seams on Derby Day, when about 160,000 people pack into the track and infield.

Many of the additions have been geared toward well-heeled racing fans.

The Starting Gate Suites debuted for this year’s Derby. The $37 million project provided more than 1,800 new seats through the addition of 32 luxury seats and third-floor grandstand seats. Other projects included renovating the clubhouse and grandstand, putting in permanent lights, creating a new VIP section known as The Mansion and installing of a gigantic video board.

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.”