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Racing spotlight shines on area

Their names are recognizable as being in the upper echelon of their sport: Simplification, Skippylongstocking, We the People and King Ottoman.

They are thoroughbred race horses, and they are among the entries for Saturday’s 52nd running of the West Virginia Derby.

Part of a nine-race card that will begin at 2 p.m. at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort, the 1 1/8-mile derby will be one of the more important races scheduled not just in West Virginia, but around the world this weekend. It’s a Grade III stakes race for 3-year-olds, and carries a purse of $500,000.

Included on Saturday’s card will be another Grade III race, the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes, that will be run at 1 1/16 miles and will offer a purse of $200,000.

The derby has come a long way since it was first run on April 21, 1923, at Huntington’s Tri-State Park. A gelding named Tender Seth claimed that inaugural win and a purse of $2,265. Wheeling Downs — when thoroughbreds still ran there — has served as home of the race, which was first run at Waterford Park, as the New Cumberland facility was formerly known, more than 50 years ago.

This year’s edition comes at a time when questions are growing about the future of the sport, not just at Mountaineer but at tracks across the United States. That includes concerns about the effects of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.

Implementation of that legislation, which was signed into law by former President Donald Trump on Dec. 27, 2020, was delayed until July 1 of this year.

The legislation, basically, places control of the sport’s drug testing and safety under one set of federal regulations, rather than the various state regulations that have governed it.

On July 26, however, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that will prevent the enforcement of some rules included under the act in West Virginia and Louisiana.

According to W.Va. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the regulations take authority away from the state and delegates power to a private entity.

Unfortunately, the day after that ruling, a horse, Little Christy, broke down on the track at Mountaineer and had to be euthanized.

There’s still heated debate about the legislation — groups that advocate for animal safety are supportive, while some in the racing industry say the regulations go too far.

The safety of all involved in racing — whether human or equine — must remain paramount for the sport to continue. That’s an important thought to keep in mind as racing’s spotlight shines on our region this weekend.

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