Game Winner new favorite in Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The new favorite enters the Kentucky Derby seeking his first win of 2019 and tops several contenders on modest winning streaks that could factor large in the sport’s marquee race.

Game Winner is now the favorite to win Saturday after Omaha Beach was scratched.

He has already won more than $1 million and seeks a bigger payday of $1.86 million along with a garland of roses. He’s among a trio of horses trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who’s chasing a record-tying sixth Derby win and second in a row after Triple Crown winner Justify.

The challenge for each horse in Saturday’s 145th running at Churchill Downs is beating 19 others over 1 1/4 mile in the longest race of their careers. The first quarter-mile figures to be a logjam before things begin shaking out to determine the real contenders.

Some horses that could make the race interesting:

GAME WINNER (Post No. 16, 9-2 odds)

The Bob Baffert-trained colt, now the Derby favorite with Omaha Beach scratched, won last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs to cap a 4-0 campaign as the top 2-year-old with three Grade 1 wins. Game Winner hasn’t won since then but his consecutive seconds as a 3-year-old have been close. He finished a half-length behind Baffert stablemate Roadster in last month’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, a performance that came a just few weeks after he fell a nose short of Omaha Beach in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He has earned $1.846 million lifetime and gives Baffert one of three chances to win his sixth Derby and tie Ben Jones for the most all time. Joel Rosario will make his fifth consecutive start atop the horse.

MAXIMUM SECURITY (No. 7, 8-1)

Won the Florida Derby by an impressive 3 1/2 lengths for his first graded stakes triumph while improving to 4-0 lifetime. One of two Derby entrants owned by Gary and Mary West – Game winner is the other – the son of New Year’s Day and Street Cry by Lil Indy has won his starts by a combined 37 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park. The bay colt has quickly moved to the front in all but his second race, which he closed strongly to win by 6 1/2 lengths. Figures to set the pace with a post in the middle. Trained by Jason Servis and ridden by Luis Saez, Maximum Security has won $649,400 but will be racing for the first time outside the Sunshine State.

ROADSTER (No. 17, 5-1)

The Baffert-trained gray colt established himself as a Derby favorite by beating Game Winner by a half-length to win the Santa Anita Derby for his third victory in four career starts. That signature win avenged his third-place finish behind Game Winner and Rowayton in last September’s Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. Has earned $706,200 lifetime. Has usually saved his best for the stretch run. His sire, Quality Road, earned seven graded stakes among his eight wins. Jockey Florent Geroux will mount Roadster for the first time in place of Hall of Famer and 2018 Triple Crown winner Mike Smith, who rode the first four starts but chose to ride Omaha Beach in the Derby. Smith is now without a mount.

TACITUS (No. 8, 8-1)

Enters the Derby atop the standings with 150 points following consecutive Grade 2 stakes wins in the Wood Memorial and Tampa Bay Derby. Can give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his first Derby triumph along with three in the Belmont Stakes. Has followed a fourth-place debut at Belmont as a 2-year-old with three wins in a row. Has earned $653,000 in his career. Able to get through traffic to the front. Jockey Jose Ortiz will make his fifth trip atop the son of Tapit and Close Hatches by First Defence.

IMPROBABLE (No. 5, 5-1)

Baffert’s third colt has been second in both 2019 starts, finishing a length behind Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby and a neck behind Long Range Toddy in the Rebel Stakes. A five-length victory in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity capped his 3-0 record as a 2-year-old. Has won $619,520 in his career. He has worked to be in the hunt early and will have a good post position to work with. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount.

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.”

Fractional interest in Flightline sells for $4.6 million

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keeneland says a 2.5% fractional interest in Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Flightline has sold for $4.6 million during a special auction before the start of its November Breeding Stock Sale.

Brookdale Farm’s Freddy Seitz signed the ticket for an undisclosed client, the track announced in a release. The sale comes a day after ownership of the 4-year-old son of Tapit retired the unbeaten colt following his record 8\-length victory in Saturday’s $6 million, Grade 1 Classic at Keeneland. Flightline likely locked up Horse of the Year honors with his fourth Grade 1 victory in six starts by a combined victory margin of 71 lengths – dominance that has drawn comparisons to legendary Triple Crown champion Secretariat.

Flightline will begin his breeding career next year at Lane’s End Farms in Versailles, Kentucky, but a stud fee has yet to be determined. West Point Thoroughbreds, part of the bay colt’s ownership, offered the fractional interest. Seitz said the buyer wanted to “make a big splash” and get more involved in the business.

“With a special horse like (Flightline) all you can do is get involved and then just hope for the best,” Seitz said in the release.

“There has never been a horse that has done what he has done for however many years, back to Secretariat. You just have to pay up and get involved, and this is kind of what he’s thinking.”