Kentucky horse farms challenge ‘stallion cap’ breeding limit

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Three prominent Kentucky horse farms challenged a rule Tuesday aimed at limiting the number of mares that a thoroughbred stallion breeds each year, calling it an anti-competitive restriction that threatens to disrupt the breeding industry.

The farms filed a federal lawsuit in Kentucky to contest the “stallion cap” adopted by The Jockey Club in the spring of 2020. The rule will effectively restrict thoroughbred stallions from breeding with more than 140 mares each year, the suit said.

The Jockey Club responded Tuesday that it stands by the rule, saying it’s meant to protect the long-term health of the thoroughbred breed.

The lawsuit warns of the rule’s deep ripple effects in Kentucky and beyond in the highly competitive, high-dollar thoroughbred industry.

As a result of the rule, The Jockey Club won’t register foals that aren’t produced from breeding sessions with those first 140 broodmares, the suit said. That lack of registration “completely devalues” a thoroughbred because it can’t compete in races or breed with other racehorses, it said.

“As a result, the highest quality thoroughbred horses will be bred less times than market economics would otherwise dictate,” the suit said. “Hundreds of millions of dollars of stud fee revenues will be impacted; all owners of mares will pay higher prices to breed their mares; and less well-connected owners of mares will be precluded entirely from access to high quality stallions.”

The rule also risks undermining the value of thoroughbreds in the U.S. and could drive the best stallions to countries with no such breeding cap, the farms said.

The suit was filed by three of Kentucky’s biggest stud farms – Spendthrift Farm, Ashford Stud and Three Chimneys Farm. Defendants are The Jockey Club and executives with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. The suit claims the commission unlawfully delegated power to The Jockey Club and contends the rule violates the state and federal constitutions as well as antitrust laws.

The Jockey Club responded Tuesday that the rule was made in the interest of preserving the health of the thoroughbred breed over the long term. The rule applies prospectively to stallions foaled in 2020 or later and does not apply to stallions already at stud, it said.

“Because the rule applies only to stallions born in 2020 or later, any effect on future stud fees or breeding economics is speculative,” it said in a statement. “The Jockey Club stands by the rule and its purpose, which is to preserve the health of the thoroughbred breed for the long term.”

Kentucky’s horse racing commission said its legal team “looks forward to addressing these issues in the litigation process” but declined additional comments, citing its policy regarding pending litigation.

B. Wayne Hughes of Spendthrift Farm said in a release that the stallion cap amounts to a “blatant abuse of power that is bad law, bad science and bad business.”

The plaintiffs said there’s “no scientific basis” to support The Jockey Club’s argument that the rule change was necessary for the health of the thoroughbred breed or to promote genetic diversity.

Forty-two stallions in the 2020 breeding season were bred to more than 140 mares, they said. The cap means excess breeding demand will move on to less commercially appealing stallions, making it more difficult for breeders to be profitable, they said.

If the rule had been applied in 2019, the breedings of 43 stallions would have been restricted and tens of millions of dollars in stud fee revenues would have been affected, the suit said.

In 2019, auction sales of thoroughbred horses in the U.S. totaled more than $1.075 billion, the suit says. On the breeding side, roughly 20,000 thoroughbred foals are born annually in North America, it said.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

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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.