Baffert goes for 8th Preakness win without valued assistant

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
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Each time Bob Baffert won a big race over the past two decades with assistant Jimmy Barnes by his side, the two would share a moment and embrace.

“We give each other a big hug like, `We did it,”‘ Baffert said.

When Authentic won the Kentucky Derby, that wasn’t possible. Baffert’s other Derby horse, Thousand Words, reared up in the paddock and broke Barnes’ right wrist, so he was in an ambulance during the race.

As soon as Baffert got to the hospital room, Barnes – his arm bandaged up and doctors around him – flashed a big smile and said to him, “We did it!” Four weeks later, Baffert is aiming to win a record-breaking eighth Preakness Stakes this Saturday with Authentic or Thousand Words while his right-hand man watches from 3,000 miles away in California.

“He’s such a big part of the operation,” Baffert said by phone in an interview with The Associated Press. “I talk to him eight times a day.”

Baffert had already won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness twice when Barnes started working for him in the second half of 1998. They’ve since combined to with the Derby three more times, Preakness five more and added three victories in the Belmont, including American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018 to capture the Triple Crown.

Barnes had to watch the most recent Derby win on his phone on the way to the hospital, except his phone cut out midway through and his wife gave him play-by-play of the final quarter-mile when Authentic roared ahead of favored Tiz the Law in a duel down the stretch. Not wanting to miss anything, he almost didn’t tell anyone something was wrong with his right wrist after the accident.

“I knew it kind of hurt,” Barnes said the next day. “Then I pulled my sleeve up and saw it was pointing a different direction, so I pulled it back down and said, `I better say something.”‘

Baffert yelled from the stands at a mostly empty Churchill Downs, “Do it for Jimmy!” It’s a moment not heard on Derby day that will be part of NBC Sports’ Preakness broadcast focusing on Baffert’s wildest 30 minutes of a wild year that has included several contenders getting knocked off the Triple Crown trail by injury.

“I felt like I was in a dryer just getting tumbled around,” said Baffert, who is currently tied with 19th century trainer R. Wyndham Walden with seven Preakness wins.

Then Baffert had his own scare when Authentic got riled up in the winner’s circle and knocked him over. Baffert was fine although embarrassed; Thousand Words was fine after falling on his left side although he was scratched from the Derby; and Barnes insisted he’ll be fine although doctors warned him to be careful for 30 days.

Barnes is back working in limited fashion with nine screws and a plate in his right wrist and hopes to be at the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 6-7, but Baffert said after this accident and a broken pelvis in 2017 that Barnes’ days riding a pony are over. That doesn’t mean Barnes can’t be helpful as what Baffert described as the “air-traffic controller” of his barn.

“Jimmy, to say he’s Bob’s right-hand man is probably selling it short,” NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss said. “Jimmy could be a tremendously successful horse trainer in his own right but has worked for Bob. They’ve been a team.”

A team that has won more in the sport than anyone else since they got together. Baffert is a perfect 5 for 5 taking the Derby winner to the Preakness, and to make it six, he’ll have to overcome Barnes’ absence.

“Certainly, we feel terrible for Jimmy and we’d love to have him there,” said Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift Farm, which co-owns Authentic and Thousand Words. “Jimmy’s always been a very important part of Bob’s team.”

Toffey said Baffert assured owners he’ll be OK at the Preakness and will rely on the rest of his staff. Baffert joked in an interview this week, “If you know anybody out there who wants to help me saddle that horse on Saturday,” but he’ll keep in touch with Barnes and handle his two horses the best he can.

As worried as Baffert was during the Derby, he was even more scared when Barnes fell off a pony and broke his pelvis three years ago. That experience also means he has done this before.

“It just means that Bob has to do a little more,” Moss said. “He has to be even more hands on than he already is.”

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.”