Major horse racing meetings in Britain fall victim to virus

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Days after raising hopes of a return by the start of May amid the coronavirus outbreak, British horse racing organizers announced the postponement of two of their biggest flat-racing festivals and added that the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting might only be staged without the public.

The Guineas Festival at Newmarket on May 2-3 and the English Derby Festival at Epsom on June 5-6 will not take place on those dates, The Jockey Club said Tuesday, removing two of the few remaining major events on a British sporting calendar otherwise wiped out by the pandemic.

Then came the announcement that Royal Ascot on June 16-20, an event typically attended by Queen Elizabeth II and other royals, would not be open to the public – if the event can take place at all.

“It may prove possible to run the Royal Ascot races behind closed doors, dependent on government and public health policy and the approval of the British Horseracing Authority for us to restart racing,” Ascot Racecourse said. “This would be for the benefit of the industry, our valued partners and suppliers and our television audiences at home and internationally.

“Planning for this is now our complete focus.”

Organizers said they were looking at alternative dates for the Newmarket and Epsom meetings “given the importance of (them) to the careers of that generation of horses, and the racing and bloodstock industries as a whole.”

The Derby is the most prestigious flat race in Britain, while the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas – two of the other “Classics” in the British racing calendar – take place at the Newmarket meeting in early May.

The Jockey Club said a decision needed to be made on postponing the meetings as trainers wanted to know whether to step up preparations for the races.

Racing has officially been suspended until the end of April. The BHA was hoping for a resumption on May 1 as part of what it called a “COVID-19 operational plan”

Flat racing became the priority of the BHA, ahead of jumps racing, “principally for reasons of safety and to minimize demands on emergency services,” the organization said.

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.”