Law to police doping in horse races not in play ’til 2022

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For five years, a bill that would place the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in charge of fighting illicit drug use in horse racing went nowhere in Congress. In 2020, it finally passed – but that milestone came too late to resolve the crisis that enveloped the sport and its latest Kentucky Derby winner this week.

As of Wednesday, Medina Spirit was entered in the Preakness Stakes, set to go for the second stage of the Triple Crown despite a doping positive at the Kentucky Derby that has shrouded its success and future, and further muddied the reputation of its trainer, Bob Baffert.

In the doping world, positive tests traditionally have to be corroborated by a “B” sample – in this case, a separately held specimen of the same blood sample that came back positive. It could take weeks for Kentucky authorities to get results from that sample, but authorities in Maryland and at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, where the Preakness is held, have been on a more urgent timeline. They had to decide whether to allow Medina Spirit to the post Saturday.

“The takeaway from this is that, right now, we’re in this cloud of uncertainty,”‘ said Bill Lear, a Kentucky attorney who was a key architect of the law that was passed last year. “You don’t know a lot of things you’d like to know, and we’re coming up on the second race of the Triple Crown.”

Because of the uncertainty, horse racing powers in Maryland were forced to weigh the specter of legal action that could come if they oust the horse against the cloud of suspicion that would exist if they let him run. Their decision was to let Medina Spirit run, albeit with an additional layer of testing scheduled for earlier in the week.

All this comes against the backdrop of a sport built for gambling. Millions of dollars will be wagered Saturday on a race that could include a horse less than two weeks removed from a failed drug test. Those who won (or lost) money on Medina Spirit in the Derby needn’t worry – there will be no returns, despite the now-murky nature of the victory.

“You can’t get the money back, and I don’t think anyone’s going to succeed in challenging that,” Lear said. “But the fact that wagers are paid immediately after the races are official heightens the need to do everything possible to not have a(n antidoping) violation skew the results of a race.”

The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act that passed last December goes into effect in July 2022. If it were in play right now, many of these issues could have been resolved before Saturday by USADA, the organization most famous for taking down Lance Armstrong, and one that is expected to handle testing for the thoroughbred industry as a whole once the law is in effect.

“Under our program, we expedite the B-sample analysis and the legal process to ensure a decision is made before the next major competition,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said, while refusing to speak specifically about the Medina Spirit case.

Lear, who also did not speak specifically about Medina Spirit, says a strengthened testing system that included more out-of-competition testing, the likes of which will be coming under the new law, could have set up the possibility “that maybe a horse doesn’t even make it to the starting line” if it is found to be violating rules.

Baffert, the seven-time winner of the Kentucky Derby who has a long record of horses testing positive for performance enhancers, said he supported the new law.

“I’d welcome Travis Tygart,” said the trainer, who will stay away from Pimlico this week, even though his horse will be there.

To which Tygart, in an email exchange with The Associated Press, responded: “Great, we are ready to dive in and help clean it up.”

Because state authorities have regulated gambling for decades in the United States, most rules related to horse racing have been handled in the same way. It has led to a balkanized and confusing set of statutes that are different in all 50 states.

Lear, whose Lexington, Kentucky, law firm represents The Jockey Club and The Breeders’ Cup among other horse interests, has helped to draft bills designed to streamline the racing industry’s antidoping policies. The first was introduced to Congress in 2015. It stalled. The same thing happened in 2016, and pretty much every year since.

“There are a lot of folks who are very entrenched in the status quo,” Lear said, in explaining why the bill never went very far.

Not until more than three dozen on-track horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in California rocked the industry in 2018-19 did federal lawmakers get serious about passing a law. Then, last year, the movement picked up more steam when 29 trainers, veterinarians and pharmacists were indicted on federal charges in a horse doping ring.

Though the law is not being universally embraced in horse circles – at least two groups are challenging the law in court – Lear takes solace in the fact that it passed with bipartisan support.

And though the law goes into effect too late to solve any of this week’s problems, Tygart said the current case serves a purpose in that it further illustrates “the perfect storm that has been brewing for years” in horse racing.

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.”