California governor backs bill expanding racing board powers

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’s supporting legislation that would give the California Horse Racing Board authority to quickly suspend a meet license when necessary to protect the health and safety of horses or riders.

The announcement Thursday follows the deaths of 26 horses at Santa Anita since Dec. 26.

“The recent horse fatalities in California are unacceptable,” Newsom said in a statement. “We must hold the horse racing industry to account. If we can regulate horse race meets, we should have the authority to suspend licenses when animal or human welfare is at risk.”

The legislation, SB469 by state Sen. Bill Dodd, would allow the board to immediately suspend a license without the usual legal notice at least 10 days in advance of a vote, or the 48-hour requirement in the case of so-called special meetings. The bill has cleared the Senate and now goes to the Assembly.

“Santa Anita Park has led the way in implementing historic reforms that modern racing requires,” Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for tracks owner The Stronach Group, said in an email to The Associated Press.

“We are committed to working with Governor Newson and to continue the progress we have made to date with owners, trainers, jockeys and all other stakeholders who are prioritizing horse and rider safety,” he said.

Santa Anita’s current meet ends June 23. On Nov. 1-2, it will host the Breeders’ Cup, considered the biggest two-day event in U.S. horse racing.

The rate of deaths began drawing notice during winter when the track east of Los Angeles received unusually heavy rain, bringing scrutiny of the condition of the surface.

Most of the deaths occurred before the track temporarily suspended racing in early March and limited training.

Before racing resumed March 29, Santa Anita instituted medication limits and provided additional track veterinarians to monitor training hours. The racing board also increased veterinarian, steward and investigator staffing time.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County district attorney opened an investigation and animal-rights activists have protested at the track.

The most recent death was on May 26, when a 9-year-old gelding was euthanized after injuring a leg in a race a day earlier. It was the third horse death in nine days.

Among the array of new measures aimed at improving safety, The Stronach Group invested $500,000 in a scanning machine to detect injuries.

In addition, no race-day medications are allowed except for the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, which will be phased out in stages. Medications for horses in training require a diagnosis from a state-qualified veterinarian, and transparency of veterinarian records has been increased.

Timed, high-speed workouts require permission at least 48 hours in advance so that veterinarians can try to identify at-risk risk horses.

The group also said it would continue working with independent track surface experts.

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.”