Santa Anita to race less this winter in bad weather

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DEL MAR, Calif. — Santa Anita will race less, if at all, in inclement weather during its winter-spring meet that begins on Dec. 26, although what factors will decide whether racing occurs in such conditions haven’t been announced.

Led by new chairman Gregory Ferraro, the California Horse Racing Board approved Santa Anita’s racing license by a 5-0 vote Thursday, contingent on several restrictions.

More details will be presented at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 12.

Also postponed until next month was further discussion on the use of the riding crop.

“We don’t really know what the right answer is,” Ferraro said. “We need to find the right answer before we just jump into something.”

Several members of the public wanting to address the board on the riding crop issue grew angry when Ferraro wouldn’t allow it before taking a vote to table the item until next month. Wendy Mitchell, a new member of the board appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, voted against postponing the issue.

“This is definitely an issue we need to hear out. The optics on it are bad,” she said. “I don’t want to kick this can too far down the road.”

Santa Anita’s winter-spring meet is scheduled for 104 racing days through June 21 but will be reduced by 12 undetermined days as part of an agreement reached earlier this year.

“The whole idea is to protect safety and horses during inclement weather situations,” Ferraro said during the meeting held at Del Mar north of San Diego. “We won’t race or train or race on tracks deemed unsafe.”

Days lost to inclement weather could count toward the total, along with days canceled because of a lack of available horses to run, according to Aidan Butler, acting executive director of California racing operations for the track’s owner, The Stronach Group.

Last March, Santa Anita canceled racing for 13 days after a series of horse deaths during racing or training following nearly a foot of rain through the winter. During the break in racing, the main track underwent renovation and inspection.

Butler said the main track will be renovated starting Monday.

Butler told the board that Santa Anita is exploring the installation of a synthetic surface on the main track or the infield training track. However, he said no decisions have been made while track officials continue to study how the artificial surface would perform in Southern California’s extreme temperatures.

Santa Anita, as well as other major tracks in California, had a synthetic track in the past, but drainage problems arose during winter rains.

Other restrictions that are part of Santa Anita’s winter-spring meet license include not running claiming races worth less than $10,000, limiting short-term activity for horses injected with corticosteroids in fetlock joints, and not allowing 2-year-olds in 2020 to be treated with the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, which was announced earlier this year.

Earlier this year, The Stronach Group imposed tougher medication rules at Santa Anita to try to reduce fatalities. Ferraro warned that further medication policies are on the horizon.

Ferraro was elected board chairman and Oscar Gonzales was named vice chairman on Thursday.

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.”