Tim Ritvo out as COO of horse racing’s The Stronach Group

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LOS ANGELES — Tim Ritvo is out as chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which runs Santa Anita, where a large number of horse deaths has provoked a crisis in the sport.

The company announced the move on Monday, saying that Ritvo left the same day to “pursue new opportunities.” His departure is one of several changes that have occurred in TSG’s executive ranks.

In November, TSG hired Craig Fravel as chief executive of racing, a new position. Ritvo reported to Fravel, who previously ran the Breeders’ Cup.

Ritvo arrived at Santa Anita in 2017 after a string of successes as general manager at TSG-owned Gulfstream Park in Florida. He also led operations at the Maryland Jockey Club.

But he found a rougher path at Santa Anita. He fired racing secretary Rick Hammerle and popular race announcer Michael Wrona, while instituting new wagering gimmicks. He hired P.J. Campo, another TSG executive, to work in Santa Anita’s racing office, but Campo left the company early last year.

Ritvo’s tenure included the crisis involving horse deaths at Santa Anita for which no single cause has been found.

“I want to thank Tim for his 24/7, day-in and day-out commitment to our company and our sport and for the invaluable contributions he has made to the repositioning and profitability of our business,” said Belinda Stronach, TSG chairman and president. “I have tremendous confidence in our 1/ST Racing Team, led by Craig Fravel, and their ongoing commitment to evolving our racing platform with the highest level of integrity and forward thinking that will drive our company’s growth for the future.”

Ritvo, a former jockey who is married to trainer Kathy Ritvo, said in a statement, “I am honored to have been part of The Stronach Group and am proud of the accomplishments that we have made for the industry across our racing and training programs.”

The Stronach Group has no immediate plans to fill his position.

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.”