Tom’s d’Etat, Midnight Bisou dazzle on Stephen Foster Day at Churchill


Champion Midnight Bisou made an eye-catching return to the races in the $200,000, Grade 2  Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs, blitzing her way to an 8 1/4-length win over six opponents.

In her first start since a runner-up finish to Maximum Security in the Feb. 29 Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, the 5-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute crushed her own division with a powerful move off the far turn in her 2020 U.S. debut.

Runner-up in the 2019 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and third in 2018, she picked up an expenses-paid return trip to the Nov. 7 event at Keeneland through the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge  Series.

Midnight Bisou came away fifth in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile test but made steady progress under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith as Grade 1 winner Serengeti Empress set swift opening fractions of :23.18 and :46.15.

As three-quarters went in 1:09.74, Midnight Bisou inhaled the pacesetter and galloped into the head of the lane with plenty left to give. She widened her advantage through a 1:35.40 mile and was never challenged en route to an 8 1/4-length victory. The final time was 1:48.99 on a track rated fast.

“What an amazing mare; couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “What a true blessing she is. To see her come through the stretch, happy as she is, as beautiful as ever, what a reward.

“For her to show her class like this is wonderful.”

Midnight Bisou is campaigned by Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables, and Allen Racing. The Fleur de Lis win improved her career record to 13-5-3 from 21 starts, with earnings of $7,371,520.

It’s been a long road for Tom’s d’Etat. A Kentucky-bred son of Smart Strike, the striking bay spent the first three years of his career searching for a black-type win.

Now 7, Tom’s d’Etat is on the win streak of a lifetime. With a dominating 4 1/4-length score in the $500,000, Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes June 27 at Churchill Downs, the hard-knocking runner stamped his ticket to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic via the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series with his fourth consecutive stakes win.

“You can’t explain it because it’s not supposed to happen in this business,” trainer Al Stall Jr. said. “He’s obviously had quite a few breaks along the line for various reasons like nagging injuries, and maybe that’s helped his longevity.”

Facing a field of seven others in the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster, Tom’s d’Etat broke sharply from post-position five and was guided to the front by jockey Miguel Mena. Settled just off the rail, Tom’s d’Etat settled back in second as Pirate’s Punch showed early speed to take the lead and click off fractions of :23.89 and :48.13 for the half-mile.

By My Standards and Alkhaatampressed the pace outside the rail on the backside and dueled for third. Tom’s d’Etat managed to edge his nose in front of Pirate’s Punch at the three-eighths pole and was in the lead by a head as six furlongs were clocked in 1:11.67. Mena guided his mount out even wider exiting the turn, and the pair were firmly in control in early stretch by two lengths.

By My Standards made his own bid for the lead at the three-eighths pole but was no match for Tom’s d’Etat, who drew away in midstretch and increased his lead all the way to the finish line, finishing in 1:47.30 on a fast track. Silver Dust was third, 2 3/4 lengths behind runner-up By My Standards.

“I knew he was a lot of fun to ride him in the morning but didn’t realize how much fun he was in the afternoon,” said Mena, who was given an opportunity to ride Tom’s d’Etat when regular jockey Joel Rosario opted to ride champion Uni in the Grade 1 Just a Game at Belmont Park. “I owe everything to Al for giving me the opportunity to ride such an impressive horse. He was going along so easy and I just asked him for his attention a little bit at the top of the lane and I didn’t even have to really step on the gas.”

Campaigned by G M B Racing, Tom’s d’Etat opened the year with a three-quarter-length score in the April 11 Oaklawn Mile Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He closed 2019 with two of his best victories, the Grade 2 Hagyard Fayette Stakes at Keeneland and the Grade 1 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare at Churchill.

“I think the most important thing is he’s had the chance to get in form by being in steady training for about 18 months and get a bunch of races strung together,” Stall said. “He enjoyed his freshening at the Fair Grounds this winter, and he couldn’t have done any better. Oaklawn couldn’t have been any better, so I feel like we’re in good shape going forward into the rest of this year. He’s in pretty good shape, and this race is only the second race back.

“He’s a great athlete. If he needs to be close, he breaks running, and if the pace is fast, he can back off and listen to the rider. He’s a smart horse, he’s an athletic horse, and he’s what a Grade 1 horse is supposed to be.”

Bred by SF Bloodstock, Tom’s d’Etat is out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Julia Tuttle. Offered to the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale, Tom’s d’Etat was purchased by G M B Racing for $330,000 from the consignment of Hunter Valley Farm. He holds a 11-2-1 record from 18 starts with $1,627,272 in earnings.

Stall said he’s hopeful that if Tom’s d’Etat continues to improve, offers to stand the horse at stud will follow.

“If I have to stand him in my backyard, he will be a stallion somewhere,” Stall said. “We get a few little bites here and there, but races like this and with us going forward, I imagine we will hear more. We’re just going to concentrate on the horse and the year in front of us and let the G M B crew, who have been unbelievably patient and spent a lot of time and money with this horse rehabbing him, get paid off. They’re good business people, and they will know what to do when the time comes.”

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series on NBC Sports continues with the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park. Watch the “Win and You’re In” race in the Dirt Mile division on Saturday, July 4 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.

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.”