Belinda Stronach says Pegasus good for racing

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MIAMI — Pegasus World Cup Day at Gulfstream Park was never intended to be just another routine day on the horse racing calendar. It was born to celebrate the best of everything: food, fashion and racing.

This year, it’ll celebrate normalcy.

Fans will return to Gulfstream on Saturday for the first time in nearly a year, and to Belinda Stronach that means this year’s Pegasus is already a success. No fans have been present at Gulfstream since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic; there will be strict protocols in place to allow a much smaller than usual Pegasus crowd – capped at 1,800 this year, about one-sixth of the normal attendance.

The highlights of Saturday’s card: the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational and $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf.

“I think it’s important, because people are craving some sense of normalcy and it’s very stressful for people, their mental health, to be locked up indoors and at home,” Stronach, the president and CEO of The Stronach Group, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And if we can provide some form of entertainment in a safe way, I think that’s very important, that people have something to look forward to.”

Pulling off a Pegasus in a pandemic is the latest entry on a list of accomplishments that Stronach can point to from the last several months. Racing kept going when some sports could not in 2020; about $11 billion was wagered on races at U.S. tracks last year, a figure consistent with the annual norms over the past decade even though attendance was zero for much of the year. Usage of the Stronach online wagering platform, 1/ST BET, is up 379% in use during the pandemic.

It doesn’t take advanced analytics to deduce how that happened: Tracks were closed, and bettors had no choice but to take wagers digital.

“Horse racing filled a void for people that wanted that kind of entertainment,” Stronach said. “Racing was introduced in a way that perhaps it wasn’t before.”

Stronach oversees no fewer than nine tracks and training centers in the U.S., including Gulfstream, Pimlico and Santa Anita. In May, two months into what was a nationwide sports shutdown, Santa Anita brought in trailers – the type movie stars use on sets – and set up a bubble where jockeys could live. The movie industry had been shut down as well, the trailers were sitting around empty, and the idea was hatched to bring jockeys to live on Santa Anita’s sprawling grounds.

Besides, shutting down operations was never an option. Racehorses need humans to tend to them.

“Nobody could have predicted 2020 and the impact on people’s lives, livelihoods, sports,” Stronach said. “We’re fortunate that because of our ecosystem we could continue to operate. We’re incredibly fortunate that we had good fortune on our side in a terrible time.”

Stronach was a big force in changing the medication laws in racing to make it safer for the horses – her tracks, like Gulfstream, instituted many new rules before they became industry norms. She touts the strides her group have made to lure in a younger audience and is making plans now to add a synthetic option to Gulfstream’s surfaces along with the turf and dirt courses.

She said bringing Pegasus back, despite the challenge of the pandemic, was also critical. It’s a day to celebrate, even just for a little while, after a year where such moments were in short supply.

“We have such a professional team, that I’m very proud to work with, that said, `We can do it,”‘ Stronach said. “And we’ll do everything we can to be able to sustain this sport.”

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.”