California racing board approves restrictive whip rule

Getty Images
0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Jockeys competing in California won’t be allowed to strike a horse more than six times during a race, and then only in an underhanded position, according to a new rule approved by the California Horse Racing Board.

The rule would allow no more than two strikes in succession using whips that must meet new board standards to soften the blows.

The board voted 4-2 on Thursday in a meeting that lasted nearly seven hours to approve the rule that was first proposed in March 2019. Commissioners Alex Solis, a retired Hall of Fame jockey, and Dennis Alfieri represented the no votes.

Representatives from the Jockeys’ Guild, along with riders Mike Smith and Aaron Gryder, had urged the board to wait at least a month before voting to allow more time for a proposed national rule on whip standards to be implemented.

However, board Chairman Gregory Ferraro disagreed, saying California should set the tone in reforming how racehorses are treated rather than wait for a national standard.

“This board has a mandate from the governor to make reforms in racing that contribute to the welfare of the horse,” Ferraro said during the meeting held remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic. “We’ve been talking about this crop rule for two years. I think it’s time to stop procrastinating and pass a rule.”

Attorney Shane Gusman, who represented the Jockeys’ Guild, said before the vote that whipping guidelines based on public perception would lead to potential accidents and negatively impact the sport in California.

“We’re concerned that it’s not going to work, and that there’s going to be real safety issues when a jockey is unable to perform his or her job,” Gusman said. “What will happen is you’re going to get an accident, and either a jockey is going to get hurt or a horse is going to go down. You’re going to end racing in California. It’s just going to happen if you go down this road of trying to regulate perception rather than reality.”

However, Ferraro said, “We’re never going to please the jocks. They don’t want to do anything but keep the status quo. We appreciate their argument. But it’s not going to fly in the face of the public demand that we quit hitting these horses.”

Racing board Rule 1688 will also prohibit the use of whips during morning training and after the finish of races.

Under the rule, jockeys would be allowed to show or wave the whip without touching the horse or tap the horse on the shoulder with the whip in the down position.

Violators would face a maximum fine of $1,000 and a minimum suspension of three days. However, there would be no penalty if the stewards determine the use of the whip was “necessary for the safety of the horse or rider.”

Terence Meyocks, president and CEO of the Jockeys’ Guild, urged the board to hold off on a vote until other racing states come up with a standardized version of whipping rules.

But Scott Chaney, the board’s new executive director, disagreed, saying, “It would require every other state to pass a rule, which is just not going to happen.”

The rule must be reviewed by state officials and it could be October before it takes effect.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

eclipse awards
Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

bob baffert
Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.