Bob Baffert mulling Medina Spirit’s next step after Derby win

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Medina Spirit’s surprising Kentucky Derby victory gave Bob Baffert a good problem to have – figuring out where to hang another sign on his barn’s already crowded wall of glory.

As Baffert digests a record seventh Derby win that even caught him off guard, the Hall of Fame trainer and the horse’s connections must determine whether the dark brown colt will turn around quickly for the 146th Preakness on May 15 in Baltimore, where a collection of rested horses and revenge-minded competitors await.

“He came out of it well,” Baffert said Sunday morning at Churchill Downs. “It takes about a week to determine, so I’m going to come back next weekend and see. I don’t see anything that would discourage me right now.”

Similar wait-and-see decisions loomed on the backside a day after the 147th Derby returned to its traditional first Saturday in May date.

Shorter than the Derby at 1 3/16 miles, the Preakness sets up well for horses that skipped Churchill Downs for the sprint at Pimlico Race Course. Not to mention a chance for redemption for competitors that fell short to Medina Spirit.

Trainer Doug O’Neill said third-place finisher Rock Your World would not be among them, looking instead to run the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes on June 5 in New York. Todd Pletcher, whose quartet of entrants finished no higher than ninth (Known Agenda), planned to return to New York to regroup and then “think about some major decisions with those horses.”

Meanwhile, Brad Cox planned to talk with connections for runner-up Mandaloun and 5-2 Derby favorite Essential Quality, who finished fourth. Though disappointed with falling short in his first Derby, the Louisville-born trainer was encouraged by both finishing in the top four of the 19-horse field.

After a head-scratching sixth in the Louisiana Derby, Mandaloun provided a pleasant surprise on Saturday by chasing Medina Spirit down the stretch before falling half a length short. Cox insisted Essential Quality was the Derby’s best horse and just created extra distance for himself in the turns trying to contend.

“He ran a huge race, very proud of his effort, he and Mandaloun,” Cox said. “He was fourth-best at a mile and a quarter. He lost a lot of ground around both turns.”

Asked if he wanted to run the Preakness, Cox said: “I have a desire if I feel like my horses are doing really well. I just really have to base it off of them.”

Baffert might throw another one of his pupils into the Preakness mix.

He preceded his availability with reporters by working Concert Tour, who finished third in the Arkansas Derby. A decision by owners Gary and Mary West looms for the colt with three wins.

In the meantime, Baffert basked in the afterglow of Medina Spirit’s biggest victory.

His lone Derby entrant was somewhat under the radar at 12-1 odds following consecutive second-place finishes, including one against Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby. Medina Spirit quickly set the line behind him, covering the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.02.

The two-time Triple Crown winner was careful not to make any projections about his latest Derby champ, whom he briefly paraded in front of a gathering outside his barn. Baffert then led him inside for a well-deserved rest before his next chapter.

“It was just a thrill to watch him do it and fight on,” Baffert said. “He came back, he’s handling it quite well. He wasn’t as tired as I thought he might be. A big race like that, but he handled it quite well.”

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.”