Essential Quality wins 2021 Belmont Stakes

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Brad Cox’s favorite Essential Quality ran down a furious pacesetting Hot Rod Charlie down the stretch to win the 153rd Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. New York regular Luis Saez was in the irons.

United Arab Emirates ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum owns Essential Quality.

The victory by Essential Quality could bring extra scrutiny of human rights issues involving the sheikh after a judge in England ruled that he orchestrated the abductions of two of his adult daughters.

This is the first Belmont Stakes win for all connections, and it was Cox’s debut in the final leg of the Triple Crown. Sheikh Mo previously won the 2006 Kentucky Derby with Bernardini (as Darley Stable), and Saez infamously crossed the finish line first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby aboard Maximum Security before being disqualified for interference.

Hot Rod Charlie took the early lead and led a fast field around Big Sandy. Essential Quality sat just a few lengths behind before going wide around the far turn and working his way up the pack. It became a two-horse competition between the colts, but Essential Quality proved too much for the frontrunner in the final moments of the grueling 1 1/2-mile trip. Preakness champ Rombauer finished third.

Essential Quality went into the Kentucky Derby on May 1 as the unbeaten favorite but finished a disappointing fourth. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ skipped the Preakness—a popular route taken by four other competitors who had also run in the Derby.

He opened as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in New York and set off at 6/5 odds.

The Kentucky-bred colt paid $4.60 to win, $3.00 to place and $2.60 to show. Hot Rod Charlie (9/2) paid $4.10 to place and $2.90 to show. Rombauer paid $3.50 to show.

A son of Tapit, he becomes the sire’s fourth Belmont Stakes winner after Tonalist in 2014, Creator in 2016 and Tapwrit in 2017.

The Belmont regained its traditional spot as the final jewel of the Triple Crown after being run first in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noticeably absent was Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who was suspended by the New York Racing Association on May 17 when his horse Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test after winning the Kentucky Derby. Since then, Medina Spirit’s positive was confirmed by a second test, and Churchill Downs handed Baffert a two-year suspension. If the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission decides to strip Medina Spirit of his title, Baffert would drop back down to six career Derby wins, including his two Triple Crown winners (American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018).

Besides Maximum Security (and Saez) in 2019, only one other horse has been disqualified from the Kentucky Derby in its 147-year history.

In 1968, the horse Dancer’s Image was retroactively disqualified as the winner of the Kentucky Derby after testing positive for phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory used as a pain reliever that has been banned and unbanned to various degrees over the decades. After years of appeals and dragged-out drama and controversy, it has become one of the most infamous runnings of the race in history.

Order of finish for the 153rd Belmont Stakes:

  1. Essential Quality
  2. Hot Rod Charlie
  3. Rombauer
  4. Known Agenda
  5. Bourbonic
  6. Rock Your World
  7. Overtook
  8. France Go de Ina

NBC Sports heads across the pond for Royal Ascot. Catch all the action from June 15 to June 19 on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. 

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.”

Fractional interest in Flightline sells for $4.6 million

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keeneland says a 2.5% fractional interest in Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Flightline has sold for $4.6 million during a special auction before the start of its November Breeding Stock Sale.

Brookdale Farm’s Freddy Seitz signed the ticket for an undisclosed client, the track announced in a release. The sale comes a day after ownership of the 4-year-old son of Tapit retired the unbeaten colt following his record 8\-length victory in Saturday’s $6 million, Grade 1 Classic at Keeneland. Flightline likely locked up Horse of the Year honors with his fourth Grade 1 victory in six starts by a combined victory margin of 71 lengths – dominance that has drawn comparisons to legendary Triple Crown champion Secretariat.

Flightline will begin his breeding career next year at Lane’s End Farms in Versailles, Kentucky, but a stud fee has yet to be determined. West Point Thoroughbreds, part of the bay colt’s ownership, offered the fractional interest. Seitz said the buyer wanted to “make a big splash” and get more involved in the business.

“With a special horse like (Flightline) all you can do is get involved and then just hope for the best,” Seitz said in the release.

“There has never been a horse that has done what he has done for however many years, back to Secretariat. You just have to pay up and get involved, and this is kind of what he’s thinking.”