Executive addresses surge in horse deaths at Fair Grounds

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NEW ORLEANS — The corporate owner of a New Orleans horse racing track appeared before Louisiana’s Racing Commission on Monday to address a surge in horse deaths there.

Mike Ziegler, executive director of racing for Kentucky-based Churchill Downs Inc., presented a list of potential reforms for the commission to consider, including restrictions on certain equine drugs that have been linked by some to premature horse deaths at the Fair Grounds Race Course, The Times-Picayune/The News Orleans Advocate reported.

Nine racehorses have died at the course since the start of the racing season in November, said Charles Gardiner III, the state commission’s executive director. Ziegler told the commission that Fair Grounds had since lost its industry accreditation, the newspaper said.

The commission will take a “hard look” at the proposed changes, Gardiner said. The body is set to vote on them at a later date.

Ziegler and others at the meeting also emphasized that the drugs weren’t responsible for all of the fatalities.

Ziegler’s comments to the commission come as a U.S. House committee is set to take up the Horseracing Integrity Act this week, news outlets report ed. The reform bill would set national standards for racing medications and establish an independent body controlled by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to provide oversight of the law. The industry remains largely self-regulated, a source of public criticism.

“The court of public opinion has convicted us and we must make significant changes to change their minds,” Ziegler said at the meeting.

An equine medical director for Churchill Downs is reviewing the spate of recent racehorse deaths.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.

Bob Baffert wins record 16th Del Mar Futurity with Cave Rock

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DEL MAR, Calif. — Cave Rock won the $302,000 Del Mar Futurity by 5 1/4 lengths, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record 16th victory in the Grade 1 race in which he finished 1-2.

Ridden by Juan Hernandez, Cave Rock ran seven furlongs in a stakes-record time of 1:20.99 on closing day at the seaside track north of San Diego. He lowered the old mark of 1:21.29 set by Declan’s Moon in 2004.

Baffert tied Phil D’Amato for the trainers’ title with 19 wins each at the 31-day summer meet. It was Baffert’s eighth title at Del Mar, but his first since 2003.

Hernandez won the jockeys’ title.

Havnameltdown, also trained by Baffert, finished second in the race for 2-year-olds. Skinner was another 4 1/4 lengths back in third.

Longtime Baffert clients Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman own the first and second-place finishers.

Cave Rock paid $2.80 to win as the 2/5 favorite. He earned $180,000 for the win.