Midnight Bourbon, Concert Tour are top Preakness challengers

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
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BALTIMORE — Midnight Bourdon hopes to take a path to the winner’s circle at the Preakness that has successfully been run before – 30 years ago.

Hansel was the horse hyped to win the Kentucky Derby three decades ago but struggled in the first leg of the Triple Crown. He was an afterthought going into the Preakness before winning it.

Hansel’s jockey Jerry Bailey sees similar potential in Midnight Bourbon.

“He had been so consistent – he had never been out of the top three,” Bailey, now an NBC Sports analyst, said of Midnight Bourbon. “He’s the most likely of those type of horses that have always been consistent and wasn’t there in the Derby and now everybody’s writing him off.”

While Derby winner Medina Spirit will likely be the Preakness favorite if drug tests clear him to run, fellow Bob Baffert-trained Concert Tour and typically front-running Midnight Bourbon are the top challengers in Saturday’s race.

Midnight Bourbon was installed on the morning line as the third betting choice at 5-1 behind 9-5 favorite Medina Spirit and 5-2 Concert Tour. The oddsmakers certainly think Midnight Bourbon stands a good chance of handling the 10-horse field in the Preakness better than he did 19 in the Derby, when he finished sixth.

“I’m very confident because of who he is physically,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “He’s very strong physically and his energy level’s been very high since the Derby, so I do think that it’s helpful with him.”

Jockey Mike Smith, who jumped ship to Concert Tour, said Midnight Bourbon stumbled out of the starting gate in the Derby. A cleaner start would allow the colt to better run the race he’s accustomed to from closer to the lead.

If Medina Spirit isn’t scratched for a problem stemming from additional tests agreed to by Baffert’s camp and Maryland racing officials, he’s expected to be on the lead again with stablemate Concert Tour. Bailey pointed out trainers have run multiple horses with different owners in the Preakness before, but this one is more complicated because they have the same running style and could wear each other down.

“The only thing I’d worry about is if they get in each other’s way in a race,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “You’ve got to give them all a fair shot, and the best horse will win.”

A speed duel on the lead could set up well for Chad Brown’s two entries, 10-1 Crowded Trade or 15-1 Risk Taking, Michael McCarthy’s 12-1 Rombauer or Robertino Diodoro’s 15-1 Keepmeinmind, who finished seventh in the Derby.

“On paper I think there’s definitely enough pace, and the smaller field helps,” Diodoro said. “We’re going to stay on the rail as long as we can this time.”

Or Baffert’s horses could run slow enough early to set up something of a match race down the stretch.

“He’s definitely not going to send two (horses to the lead), but at the same time there’s a concern that they could control the pace, his two horses,” Diodoro said. “We’re not going to change our running style.”

Bailey knows that philosophy well from the 1991 Triple Crown, when Hansel finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby after going off as the favorite. That’s why he doesn’t think Midnight Bourbon should be dismissed as a Preakness contender.

But there’s much more talk about Concert Tour, who looks primed to improve on a disappointing third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby on April 10. Barnes said, “Concert Tour didn’t get his chance in the Derby, so this is his chance to shine.”

Rivals around the barn at Pimlico Race Course think so, too. Irad Ortiz will be aboard Midnight Bourbon only because Smith chose Concert Tour instead.

“I would suggest that Mike thought he had a better chance to win on Concert Tour than Midnight Bourbon and that’s why he chose it,” Asmussen said. “Concert Tour’s as fast as you can be. He is obviously a formidable horse.”

Watch the Preakness on Saturday, May 15 from 2 to 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 5 to 7:15 p.m. ET on NBC. Coverage is also available on NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app. 

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.”