Turtle Recall: Derby dashed, turtles go in slow, steady race

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Losing the Kentucky Derby has left race fans shell-shocked.

The first Saturday in May has yielded to the legs of a bunch of slowpokes: Seattle Slow headlines a field of turtles – yes, turtles – that will race in the Kentucky Turtle Derby.

Call it, the slowest eight minutes in sports.

The race is more methodical marathon that mad dash to the finish – though the victor can win at the line by a turtleneck rather than a nose – and is just one more offbeat sport that has had a moment during the coronvirus pandemic.

The Derby, America’s longest continuously held sports event, had been scheduled for May 2. It will now be run Sept. 5, kicking off Labor Day weekend. It’s the first time the Derby won’t be held on its traditional first Saturday in May since 1945, when it was run June 9. The federal government suspended horse racing nationwide for most of the first half of the year before World War II ended in early May, but not in time to hold the first leg of the Triple Crown that month.

Looking for a slower substitute, the first Kentucky Turtle Derby was hatched.

The Courier-Journal headline from 1945 read: “167 Turtles Arrive for Races Saturday” and about 6,500 fans filled the Jefferson County Armory for the 8 p.m. post time. The event went down like this: 20 turtles were herded into seven qualifying races and the winners went on to compete in a 20-foot finale.

The Kentucky Derby Museum reported that Broken Spring paid $2.50 on his win and $8,000 was raised to support a local children’s health charity.

With Old Forester signed on as a sponsor, Saturday’s race will run at 7 p.m. on YouTube.com/OldForester.

The sounds may be familiar for Derby fans: Triple Crown announcer Larry Collmus is calling the race and bugler Steve Buttleman will serenade viewers prior to the turtles taking off.

“I don’t think I’ve called a race that’s eight minutes long,” Collmus said. “I’m going to have to drink plenty of water to prepare for that one. With the Kentucky Derby, there’s months of preparation getting to know all the horses, getting the names in your head. These turtles, they’re going to be a little bit new to me.”

The Derby was first run in 1875 and has gone uninterrupted, even through the Great Depression and World Wars I and II. In 1943, there were travel restrictions imposed by World War II and no out-of-town tickets were sold. Still, the Derby went on, with Count Fleet winning in front of 65,000. The colt won the Triple Crown that year.

Yes, in the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race tradition of turtles, the event is finally back.

The turtle race will actually be pre-taped in Chicago with the likes of Sir-Hides-A-Bunch, American Toruga and Galapa-GO! in the field. There was no immediate word if Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello or Raphael would be eligible to compete.

“It is weird, but there’s been a lot of weird going on the last couple of months in this country,” Collmus said. “It will be like the Derby broadcast. Just turtles instead.”

And one big shell-abration at the end.

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.”