Jon Court, 58, would set Derby record as oldest jockey

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jon Court would set a record as the oldest jockey in the Kentucky Derby when he rides Long Range Toddy this weekend.

Court is 58, which is a lot of candles on the birthday cake for someone still participating in an incredibly dangerous sport.

Churchill Downs officials say the current record holder is Bobby Baird, who was 57 when he rode in the 1978 Derby.

Mike Smith, who is 53, will ride early favorite Omaha Beach in the Derby on Saturday.

Bill Shoemaker is the oldest jockey to win the Derby, at 54 aboard Ferdinand in 1986.

It takes a combination of skill and a healthy dollop of luck to persevere when most of the competition since riding your first winner in 1980 has long since retired.

“I’ve been blessed,” Court said. “I’ve been fortunate to have the gift to do, and the talent to be able to participate on a regular basis. I am taking care of myself. And I’ve been very blessed that I can compete at this level and at the top category with this type caliber horses.”

Long Range Toddy is a long shot at 30-1. The colt trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is 4 for 8 in his career, with Court aboard for the last two races, both at Oaklawn: a victory in the Rebel Stakes and a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby.

“I had been told that he was kind and intelligent,” Court said of Long Range Toddy. “That impressed me. After working him, I realized he had the talent it would take to be running at the caliber level he’s racing at.”

This will be Court’s fourth Derby mount. His best finish was eighth aboard Will Take Charge in 2013. Derby opportunities were a long time coming. Court’s first Derby ride came in 2011.

He never abandoned hope he would make the sport’s biggest race.

“I would say I was quietly confident,” he said.

Court, who was born in Gainesville, Florida, has lived the typical gypsy life of a jockey. He has been a regular on circuits in Colorado, Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas, Alabama and California. He has more than 4,000 victories and two his biggest were consecutive wins in the Arkansas Derby with Line of David (2010) and Archarcharch (2011).

But it a different kind of horsepower that could have ended Court’s career. He suffered a fractured collarbone last year in a motorcycle accident.

As to the future, Court hopes to go out on his own terms rather than be forced out by injury.

“As long as it feels good and I’m doing well, I’ll keep going,” Court said. “I’d like to be able to enjoy this industry as much as I have loved it and be able to step down gracefully at my timing.”

And he’d love to leave with a Kentucky Derby trophy as a memento.

“That would be a beautiful thing,” Asmussen said. “Jon gave him such a dream trip in the Rebel. Hopefully, we can recapture some of that magic Saturday.”

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.”