Spanish Mission prevails in thrilling finish in Jockey Club Derby

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The New York Racing Association’s Turf Triple series for 3-year-old males concluded Sept. 7 at Belmont Park and ended on a high note as Team Valor and Earle Mack’s Spanish Mission went from last-to-first to claim the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational Stakes by a nose.

After taking a wrong step from the gate, Thread of Blue — who won the second leg of Turf Triple in the Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes Aug. 4 at Saratoga Race Course — recovered with ease and flew to the lead under Luis Saez.

Pursuing the leader just off the rail was Henley’s Joy, the winner of the series-opening Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes who kept within striking distance of A Thread of Blue as he rated off quarter-mile fractions of :25.23, :50.77, and 1:16.17 through six furlongs.

Still in control by a head as the field entered the stretch, A Thread of Blue felt the pressure from Pedro Cara, who overtook him from the outside at the top of the stretch.

Last on the backstretch, Spanish Mission, who was making his first start on U.S. soil for trainer David Simcock, was tipped out wide by Jamie Spencer on the final turn before being set down for a drive. The son of Noble Mission gained ground progressively before finally linking up with Pedro Cara. The two locked heads and battled down to the wire before a thrilled Belmont crowd. With the finish line in sight, Spanish Mission, the 2-1 favorite, got the bob and was declared the victor by a nose.

“He didn’t break that well but I wasn’t too concerned. I was happy he was relaxed and found his rhythm coming along the backside,” Spencer said.

“Going into the final turn he was giving me all he had. I dropped my right rein and even though I was using the crop, when you drop your reins in a race, it typically signals to the horse that the race is over. I would’ve been mad with myself had we lost but he got back on his game and finished strong. He was a very game horse today.”

Final time for the 1 1/2 miles was 2:27.58 on turf rated firm.

San Huberto finished third followed by A Thread of Blue and Henley’s Joy.

“As the race developed, it was just beautiful to watch,” said Ian Russell, assistant to Simcock. “The further he went, the better he got into it and he just gets his head down. Jamie dropped his rein, but the horse stayed on and kept to his job. He knows his job and the further he goes, the better he’s going to be. He’s a lovely horse for the future.”

The Jockey Club Derby Invitational is a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race that awards the winner an automatic berth in the Nov. 2Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita Park.

Irwin said he would talk with Mack before making a final decision, but with Spanish Mission heading back to Europe, it’s unlikely he will run in the Breeders’ Cup.

A winner of the July 11 Group 3 Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket, Spanish Mission was bred in Kentucky by St. Elias Stables out of the Street Cry mare Limonar and is a half brother to stakes winner Mokarris. His win in the Jockey Club Derby Invitational tripled his career earnings to $710,246 and improved his record to 3-1-2 from seven starts.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Cotillion Stakes from Parx Racing on September 21. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBC.

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.”