Horse Racing News: Baffert Suing Churchill, Rosario Returns, HISA’s New CEO, and More

Lots of horse racing news to kick off 2022 and we cover it all on this week’s podcast of the Win Place Show. At Laurel Park (MD) racing and training has been suspended until at least Sunday, January 16 because the track is not properly winterized. If you remember, Laurel underwent significant construction of their homestretch in early December because of an alarming number of catastrophic breakdowns. Fortunately, there has not been any breakdowns since returning to action but the inability to get the track in proper condition for the winter has eroded trust between the track and the trainers who use the track to keep their horses fresh. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, their governing authority is challenging a Horseracing Integrity and Safety Association (HISA) unfunded mandate that all tracks much employ a full-time medical director on staff. The costs of paying for the medical director is a particular point of contention and West Virginia and several other states are challenging HISA’s authority and ability to force such mandates on them without providing subsidies to pay for them. In good news for tracks, Sam Houston Race Park opened last week with a staggering $3.2 million handle (wager) on Opening Night that blew away their previous high of $2.6 million the year before. They followed up the historic Opening Night with solid Friday and Saturday handles despite Saturday being cut two races short due to extreme thunderstorms. As they say, everything is bigger in Texas…including the handles.

In horse racing news, The New York Times broke a story this week that Bob Baffert and his attorneys are planning on filing a complaint against Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) in federal court relating to his two-year ban from entering horses at the track. Baffert’s lawyers initially sent the complaint to CDI in the hopes it might spur negotiations, but CDI promptly dismissed the complaint and issues a blistering statement regarding Mr. Baffert needing to take accountability for his actions. Looming over these potential proceedings are few other events. First, the impending hearing in New York on January 24 between Mr. Baffert and NYRA regarding his potential suspension. Additionally, we are less than five months from the Run for the Roses and Derby and Oaks prep races are being run with greater regularity while Mr. Baffert’s complaint has not yet been formally filed, which means this process could take several more months to play out. Finally, Horse Racing News recently took a look at the various ownership groups that have potential Derby/Oaks horses and examined whether those groups have good relationships with other trainers, which might facilitate a trainer change. Needless to say, this story is not going away any time soon.

However, from a regulation standpoint, help is on the way in the form of new HISA CEO, Ms. Lisa Lazarus who was publicly named to the position on Tuesday and will take over responsibilities on February 15, 2022. Ms. Lazarus has held legal and leadership roles for the International Equine Federation and the National Football League in addition to her current position leading Equine Practice at Morgan Sports Law. The new CEO will have several big issues to tackle but appears to have the experience and knowledge to bring disparate sides together to find common solutions, which is something she did regularly while working at lead counsel for labor relations at the National Football League.

On the track, there is some exciting news as Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon are set to kick-off their 2022 rivalry at the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds next week. These two have run against each five times previously with the last being the Haskell at Monmouth Park. Famously, that race featured Midnight Bourbon going down after clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie and Mandaloun winning after HRC was DQ’ed. In the four races where they both crossed the finish line, they are split with each getting the better of the other twice. Midnight Bourbon is coming off a grueling 2021 campaign featuring 11 graded stakes races including six consecutive Grade I races while Mandaloun is running for the first time since the Haskell. We also got news that six-year-old super mare Letruska will start her 2022 campaign in South Florida at the Grade III Royal Delta Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February. The race will be used as a prep to get her ready to defend her title at the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in April. Finally, in a sad piece of news, Aidan O’Brien’s prize filly, Snowfall, passed away after suffering a pelvis injury in her stall a few weeks ago. Teams had been working around the clock to save the Epsom and Irish Oaks winner but ultimately her conditions deteriorated to the point where she had to be put down. The four-year-old filly was a fan favorite and won the Epsom Oaks by an astonishing 16-lengths this year. We send our condolences to the connections and all who loved her.

The final piece of news on this week’s podcast is that Joel Rosario is returning to action after being sidelined with a rib injury. He will be taking seven mounts at Oaklawn on Friday while Irad Ortiz Jr. will be sidelined for 3-4 weeks due to the injury (knee fracture) he sustained in a gate accident at Gulfstream Park last weekend. Make sure to keep pace with the latest news by following and downloading the Win Place Show on the podcast platform of your choice and make sure to get all our weekly race recaps, stakes previews, industry interviews, picks blogs, and more by going to amalfimedia.com. Finally, follow me on Twitter at @failedtomenace to engage with me and get the breaking news in horse racing.

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