Medina Spirit heads to Preakness, minus trainer Bob Baffert

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit is headed to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes while trainer Bob Baffert said Monday that he won’t attend the race to avoid being a distraction in the wake of scrutiny following the colt’s failed postrace drug test.

Medina Spirit’s Derby win by half a length over Mandaloun on May 1 gave Baffert his record seventh victory in the sport’s premier race. That milestone win is now in jeopardy following Baffert’s announcement on Sunday that test results revealed the horse had an excessive amount of the steroid betamethasone.

Baffert is appealing the positive test and part of the original sample will be re-tested. If the violation is upheld, Medina Spirit could be disqualified and runner-up Mandaloun elevated to winner.

The trainer has denied all wrongdoing and promised full transparency with Kentucky racing officials. Churchill Downs nonetheless suspended Baffert from entering horses at the track. The Maryland Jockey Club and Pimlico officials say they will decide on Medina Spirit’s status in the Triple Crown’s middle jewel after reviewing the facts.

Baffert’s lawyer, W. Craig Robertson III, confirmed to The Associated Press he is prepared to file for a temporary restraining order to keep Preakness officials from denying Medina Spirit entry into the race, if they decide to do so.

Those events will unfold with Baffert back in California instead of at the race where he will go for a record eighth victory.

“I go to Baltimore to have a good time. It’s a fun trip,” Baffert said. “I don’t want to take away from the horses. I think it’d be a distraction if I went. I think it’d be a distraction if I win. The owners will be there. (Assistant trainer) Jimmy (Barnes) can handle it.”

Whether he is in Baltimore or not, the focus right now is on Medina Spirit and Baffert.

Medina Spirit and Concert Tour, who skipped the Derby, arrived at Pimlico on Monday afternoon after being transported by van from Churchill Downs. The field for the 146th Preakness will be drawn on Tuesday after being pushed back a day because of the uncertainty.

In the meantime, Baffert continued to deal with the fallout from his fifth horse to have failed a drug test in over a year.

Medina Spirit was found to have 21 picograms of betamethasone, which is sometimes used to treat pain and inflammation in horses. It was the same drug found in Baffert-trained filly Gamine, who finished third in last fall’s Kentucky Oaks before being disqualified following a test. Baffert was fined $1,500.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he is disappointed in multiple ways and stressed the rule “was well known to anybody running in the Kentucky Derby.” But he added that Baffert will get due process.

Baffert acknowledged the criticism he is receiving on social media and understands the public scrutiny of him as the face of horse racing. He also expressed disappointment with Churchill Downs officials for a statement announcing his suspension soon after he revealed the failed drug test.

“I thought I had had a pretty good relation(ship) with them with all the stuff I’ve done with my Triple Crown winners,” he said. “I’m the face of the sport and I’m trying to promote my sport. And that was a pretty low blow, what they did yesterday. I wish they would’ve called me.”

With that, Baffert’s hope is that Medina Spirit can make a strong showing in the Preakness and put the public skepticism to rest – for now.

“I want him to run a good race because now everybody’s piling on him,” Baffert said. “It’s probably more pressure now that he’s got to run 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.”