Churchill Downs presents plan to offer winter racing

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) The home of the Kentucky Derby wants to expand into live winter racing in 2020. If approved by state racing regulators, it means overcoats and hot chocolate could come into vogue at Churchill Downs – where mint juleps and sundresses are in fashion in the spring.

The famed Louisville track’s parent company said it plans to seek approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to host a winter racing meet in January through March and in December of 2020. After that, Churchill Downs Inc. said it hopes those thoroughbred racing dates are awarded to a racing and gaming facility the company wants to build in northern Kentucky.

Churchill’s applications means the powerful racing and gaming company is trying to take over racing dates that historically have been awarded to Turfway Park, a racetrack in northern Kentucky. Turfway Park did not immediately comment Friday on Churchill’s application.

The northern Kentucky region, just south of Cincinnati, is a potentially lucrative new market for Churchill Downs.

Churchill revealed its plans in a news release late Thursday saying the Louisville-based company has plans to build New Latonia Racing & Gaming, an up to $200 million live and historical racing and year-round training facility in northern Kentucky.

The company didn’t specify where it plans to build the proposed facility.

In its release, Churchill characterized the request for 2020 winter racing at its Louisville track as a “critical, short-term measure” to support thoroughbred racing in Kentucky.

Winter racing at Churchill would significantly increase purses and total pari-mutuel wagers, resulting in increased revenues benefiting the state and Kentucky’s thoroughbred industry, it said.

“Churchill Downs is stepping up to protect and grow Kentucky’s thoroughbred racing circuit,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack.

Churchill has aggressively tapped into historical racing as a revenue source. The slot-style machines allow people to bet on past horse races. The games typically show video of condensed horse races. Also called instant racing, the machines have proliferated in Kentucky in recent years.

Last year, Churchill opened a Louisville gaming facility that features hundreds of historical racing machines. Churchill and other Kentucky tracks see historical racing as a way to generate new revenue to strengthen live racing at their tracks.

Churchill’s track in Louisville already offers live racing in the spring, in September and later in the fall. The world’s attention turns to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of each May, when the Kentucky Derby is run – the first leg of the Triple Crown season.

The parent company also offered details about its proposed New Latonia facility.

The project’s first phase would include a historical racing facility with up to 1,500 machines, as well as a clubhouse, a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) synthetic main race track and stabling facilities, it said. It’s projected to create nearly 400 full and part-time jobs. New Latonia is expected to remain open year-round as a training facility. The second phase might include the addition of a hotel, it said.

“Our willingness to make a sizeable investment in the neglected northern Kentucky market is our latest effort to improve Kentucky’s valuable horse racing and agriculture industries,” Flanery said.

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.”