Belmont Stakes: New York a standard-setter on medications

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NEW YORK (AP) When Bob Baffert was banned from entering horses in the Belmont Stakes, it was the latest example of the New York Racing Association taking a strong stand on medications.

Long before Baffert-trained Medina Spirit failed a post-Kentucky Derby drug test, New York has been one of the industry’s leaders in testing, mandatory medication reporting and documentation. When the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act goes into effect next summer, there’s a good chance it includes elements of policies New York has pioneered over the past decade.

“New York, NYRA and other stakeholders in New York, not unlike California and some in Kentucky, have been leaders in pushing for this reform, and so I’m very hopeful to continue to work with them closely and whether it’s the collection processes or the labs or the results management process that they utilize,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said. “Our hope is to borrow the good pieces that are there, to implement those into the program overall but obviously fill in the gaps because there’s a lot of gaps to be filled.”

Horse racing has been in the spotlight because of many of those gaps. Baffert’s five medication violations in 13 months pale in comparison to the charges levied against trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro, who were among 27 people indicted in 2020 in a widespread international scheme to drug horses to make them race faster.

Servis and Navarro took advantage of racing in states with more lax regulations, and one intent of the new law is to standardize rules across the sport. New York is setting some of those standards by requiring trainers to report corticosteroid injections, transfer veterinary records when ownership changes and implementing out-of-competition testing that safety authority chairman Charles Scheeler said will be a major emphasis.

Dr. Mary Scollay, executive director of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium, pointed out New York was the first to do corticosteroid injection reporting and how pivotal the the state’s other measures are going forward.

“I certainly think the transfer of medical information from the previous ownership to the claimant is important,” Scollay said. “I am confident that the new authority will require treatment reporting into some sort of a database. Hopefully that would be on a national basis.”

Scollay credits Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association chairman and CEO Alan Foreman for many of those initiatives, which he said dates to a major safety investigation almost a decade ago that led to 38 reforms in Mid-Atlantic states. New York took it a step further by regulating when drugs and cannot be administered to horses.

The result is fatalities being cut by 58% and what Foreman called New York’s lowest positivity rate on drug tests in decades, including zero positives all last year.

“You’re talking thousands of tests here, thousands of races and they don’t have a single trainer in New York who has ever gotten a multiple medication violation penalty,” Foreman said. “It’s a collective effort in the Mid-Atlantic of which New York is an active participant and in many cases helps to take the lead.

The New York State Gaming Commission also makes Belmont horses’ medical records public, a kind of transparency that’s missing from much of the horse racing industry.

Trainer Doug O’Neill, who found out firsthand about New York’s stringent regulations with I’ll Have Another at the 2012 Belmont when a quarantine barn was used to closely observe horses, would like to see more prerace testing to avoid situations like Medina Spirit winning and testing positive after the fact.

“That way if a horse did happen to have a legal therapeutic but it was at a high level, he’s got to scratch,” said O’Neill, who’s saddling Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont on Saturday. “If your horse accidentally holds on to some ointment that he shouldn’t, you’re like `Son of a gun,’ and you scratch and you protect the horse, the connections, the bettors and you don’t have a black eye that you do the way our testing is.”

Scheeler said Wednesday the safety authority and USADA are still early in the process of formulating rules on testing and other elements.

“We’re much more in the embryonic stage than the fully-formed product and we’re going to take an awful lot of input from all the constituencies across racing before we come to any final conclusions about what a particular standard’s going to be,” Scheeler said.

While Scheeler didn’t want to comment on any jurisdiction’s rules, Foreman hopes the safety commission pays attention to what has been done in New York and around the region.

“We don’t see it as a heavy lift,” he said. “A lot of what will be adopted as national standards we’re already doing.”

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.”