Santa Anita Derby postponed

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LOS ANGELES — Another Kentucky Derby prep is off for now.

The Santa Anita Derby, the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby, was to be run Saturday. However, it will be postponed until later in the season while Santa Anita remains closed for live racing during the coronavirus pandemic on orders of the Los Angeles County Health Department.

There are no known cases of COVID-19 at the track, officials said Tuesday. It has been closed to the public and only essential personnel have been allowed since March 12. The winter-spring meet is set to end in mid-June.

Track officials say they are continuing to have “constructive” talks with the health department and county Supervisor Kathryn Barger and her staff about the possibility of resuming live racing. Track officials say they submitted a proposal recently which they believe responds to the health department’s requests.

“We have yet to receive a satisfactory response,” the track said in a statement.

Training hours are being allowed at Santa Anita, where over 1,700 horses are stabled at the Arcadia track. Most of the 750 stable workers live on-site and officials say they are operating under stringent measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

Santa Anita officials point out that other tracks nationwide are having live racing, including Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida and Oaklawn in Arkansas.

“They are running for exactly the same reasons that Santa Anita is trying to communicate to LA County officials – because the consequences of closing down the economic engine that fuels the community makes the risks and potential issues significantly worse when racing is closed and only training allowed,” track officials said.

The Santa Anita Derby is the latest in a string of Kentucky Derby preps to be postponed or canceled. The Kentucky Derby itself has been pushed back from May 2 to Sept. 5. Of the major preps, only the Louisiana and Florida derbies have been run since mid-March.

The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Kentucky also were to be run this weekend. Aqueduct has canceled live racing and is being used as a temporary hospital site in hard-hit New York. Keeneland canceled its spring meet.

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 on Saturday 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.”