Bob Baffert a double winner in return from long suspension

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High Connection won the $125,000 Los Alamitos Derby by 1 3/4 lengths, giving trainer Bob Baffert his second victory on the card in his return to competition after serving a 90-day suspension.

“What a way to come back,” said Baffert, whose punishment by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission ended six days ago. The suspension had been upheld at other tracks nationwide.

Baffert earned his fifth consecutive victory in the Los Alamitos Derby and seventh since 2014 at the Orange County track, where he first visited from Arizona at age 14.

“I love this place,” said Baffert, who later moved to California to further his career training quarter horses. “Quarter horses were my life and I knew if I could make it at Los Alamitos I knew this is it.”

Rhetoric, a 3-year-old colt, won the fifth race for the 69-year-old trainer’s first win in his return. Juan Hernandez rode both of Baffert’s winners.

In April, Baffert began serving the suspension for a failed post-race drug test involving Medina Spirit, who finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert wasn’t allowed on the grounds at any track and his horses were turned over to other trainers in his absence.

“I really missed it,” he said.

However, Baffert is still limited in where he can enter horses.

Last month, the New York Racing Association suspended Baffert for one year for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. That punishment, which bars him from Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct, ends Jan. 26.

The two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs that will keep him out of the Kentucky Derby until 2023. He is suing the Louisville track to have it overturned.

The punishments won’t keep Baffert from venturing back East. He has two horses – Taiba and Pinehurst – nominated to the $1 million Haskell on July 23 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

Baffert also is gearing up to move his Santa Anita-based stable south to Del Mar for the start of the track’s summer meeting on July 22.

In the Los Alamitos Derby, High Connection ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.98 and paid $5.40 to win at 17-10 odds. The victory was worth $149,000.

Slow Down Andy was second and 19-1 shot Win the Day was another four lengths back in third.

Doppelganger, Baffert’s other entrant, was fourth in the five-horse field.

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.”