Odds & Ends: HSIA; Mucho Gusto; Sole Volante; NYRA, Churchill Downs, Woolf Finalists

By Ed McNamara and Richard Rosenblatt

During the past 40 years, hundreds of columns and speeches have stressed the need for uniform medication rules in American racing. On Monday (Dec. 21) the Senate passed legislation that finally would make it happen. But hold your applause, racing fans.

The Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act is part of an omnibus bill that included a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package. It needs President Donald Trump’s signature to become law, which could be a problem. Trump posted a four-minute video on Twitter Tuesday night describing the bill as “a disgrace” and calling for Congress to amend it. He wants stimulus checks of $2,000 per person, not $600, and if he doesn’t get what he wants, he could keep the bill from becoming law, or at least delay that until after Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

So, the HSIA, once considered a longshot, has crossed the finish line, but the inquiry sign is blinking. Nothing is simple.

Politicians and racing people applauded the passage of the landmark legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said: “Kentucky’s cherished horse racing traditions deserve to be protected… We’re one step closer to promoting fairness and safety across thoroughbred racing. I look forward to this major advancement for our beloved sport becoming law.”

Stuart Janney III, chairman of The Jockey Club, thanked McConnell for supporting the HSIA and helping to shepherd it through. In a release, Janney said: “With the passage of this bill, we restore confidence with our fans that the competition is clean, the game is fair, and the horse and rider are protected.”

Animal rights activists are on board, too.

“This is a blue-ribbon moment in the history of American horse racing, and this well-crafted measure sets the bar high,” said Kitty Block, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States.”

As for if and when the HSIA becomes law, that depends on politics. Trump didn’t say he would veto the stimulus bill. However, if he doesn’t sign it before this session of Congress ends Jan. 3, that’s a “pocket veto,” and the entire package would have to be reintroduced and voted upon again.

Mucho Gusto returns on Santa Anita opening day (Saturday)

Mucho Gusto is back.

Mucho Gusto

Mucho Gusto

Winner of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) in January, and fourth in the $20 million Saudi Cup behind stablemate Maximum Security in February, Mucho Gusto returns to the races on Saturday in the $200,000 San Antonio Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita.

A field of eight was entered in one of five graded stakes races on opening day at Santa Anita. The 4-year-old is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, and will be ridden for the first time by Hall of Famer John Velazquez.

Baffert has won the San Antonio six times, twice with Hoppertunity, twice with Game on Dude, and with Richard’s Kid and Congaree.

After the Saudi Cup, Mucho Gusto was being prepared for the $12 million Dubai World Cup before it was canceled due to COVID-19.

Back in California after the arduous journey, Mucho Gusto has been training well recently, and owner Prince Faisal Bin Khaled decided the time was now for a race.

“He looks healthy and great. He’ll need the race. He’s not in peak form,” Baffert said recently, “but this should tighten him up.”

The goal is a return trip to the Saudi Cup, scheduled for Feb. 20.

Mucho Gusto, a winner of $3.1 million, is the 2-1 favorite leaving from the outside No. 8 post, with Sharp Samurai at 5-2 and three horses at 5-1 – Extra Hope, Midcourt, and Idol.

Sole Volante returns at Gulfstream Park

After the rigors of the Triple Crown trail (sixth in the Belmont Stakes, 11th in the Kentucky Derby), the 3-year-old looks to regroup on turf in the $75,000 Tropical Park Derby on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Owned by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Andie Biancone, Sole Volante has been working up to his return over the past 11 weeks. Racing on turf is nothing new for the Patrick Biancone-trainee, who started his career with a pair of wins on the Gulfstream turf.

“Even at the Kentucky Derby we were debating [about running Sole Volante on turf] because they have that race [Grade 2 American Turf} the same day. We were contemplating it,” assistant trainer Andie Biancone said this week.

“We know he’s a turf horse. It’s just because he has such a big heart that he takes to the dirt. We’re really happy to get him back on turf.”

NYRA stakes races to be run without Lasix in 2021

The use of Lasix will be prohibited within 48 hours of all stakes races at New York Racing Association tracks (Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga) beginning Jan. 1, 2021.

In April of 2019, NYRA led the formation of a coalition of racing organizations founded to address race day medication in a uniform and consistent way. At the start of this year, NYRA prohibited Lasix in all 2-year-old races.

“NYRA is pleased to honor the commitment we made to our coalition partners by greatly expanding the ban on race day medication to all stakes races in 2021,” said Martin Panza, NYRA SVP of Racing Operations. “We look forward to working with racetracks around the country who share our desire to achieve uniform and consistent rules that advance safety and integrity. As evidenced by the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, there is significant appetite for positive change that will benefit the sport.”

New president chosen Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, has a news president in Mike Anderson. The announcement was made on Tuesday (Dec. 22) by Churchill Downs Inc.

Anderson, who has been with the company for 24 years, most recently as vice president of operations, replaces Kevin Flanery, who announced his retirement in November.

Anderson, a native of Louisville, led the planning, construction and opening of over $300 million in capital projects across the company’s properties. Anderson will report to Bill Mudd, president & COO of CDI.

CDI also named Mike Ziegler senior vice president and GM of Churchill Downs. Ziegler also remains executive director of racing for the CDI.

5 finalists for George Woolf Award

Nothing is more rewarding than a salute from your peers, which makes the George Woolf Award mean as much to a rider as an Eclipse. It honors jockeys “whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of thoroughbred racing,” according to the Jockeys’ Guild website. Santa Anita Park has presented it annually since 1950 to honor Woolf, a Hall of Famer who died Jan. 4, 1946, the day after a spill there.

Starting in 1985, jockeys nationwide have voted to determine the winners, who include Mike Smith (2000), Richard Migliore (2008), John Velazquez (2009) and Calvin Borel (2010).

The five finalists for the 2021 Woolf Award:

Aaron Gryder, a winner of more than 3,900 races who is retiring after a 34-year career; Kendrick Carmouche, who had a breakthrough year on the New York circuit and earned his first Grade 1 win in the Cigar Mile; Alex Birzer, a longtime standout in the Midwest and Southwest; Jorge Martin Bourdieu, 46, a native of Argentina who has had success on thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses and Arabians; and DeShawn Parker, who has more than 5,800 victories and in 2010 became the first African-American jockey since 1895 to lead the nation in wins.

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