TRUTH BUT FEW CONSEQUENCES
By Ray Paulick
What is the sports world coming to? We have female high school soccer players engaging in a brawl during a game in Rhode Island, a former police officer giving a Little League pitcher in Pennsylvania $2 to bean another kid with a fastball, cheap shots to the groin captured by TV cameras in the recent NIT men’s college basketball tournament, and, in one of the stranger incidents of violence, an owner named David Reynolds attacking jockey Kieren Fallon after a race at Lingfield in England–even though Fallon wasn’t riding his horse, which finished second to last as the betting favorite.
(Fallon, incidentally, provided a good verbal counterpunch, saying Reynolds “hits like a girl”—which does make you wonder who the controversial rider may have battled with in the past. The whole episode must have given Pierre “PEB” Bellocq, the wonderful longtime cartoonist and caricature artist for Daily Racing Form, inspiration to bring back his Equine Comedy. My personal PEB favorite was the one of a jockey tied to a beam inside a racetrack grandstand, with a pile of losing mutuel tickets at his feet, and an unhappy owner or trainer getting ready to light up the tickets as the jock looked on in horror.)
Last Saturday, in clear view of racing fans attending the nationally televised Santa Anita Derby, Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez attacked fellow rider Victor Espinoza after Gomez’s mount, Lookin At Lucky, finished third as the favorite in the race, largely because he was forced to take up along the rail on the final turn when Espinoza’s mount suddenly closed the hole, keeping Gomez and Lookin at Lucky from getting through.
The fight, which occurred after the horses were unsaddled and the jockeys weighing in, was quickly broken up, but then continued a short time later in the jocks’ room. Gomez said Espinoza was exacting revenge for an on-track incident that occurred a week earlier. Espinoza played it straight, saying things can happen when jockeys try to rally up the rail. Gomez felt Espinoza was acting recklessly toward the other jockeys and horses in the race.
“When you’re talking about these kind of horses, there isn’t room for these kind of behaviors,” Gomez told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I mean, he (Espinoza) endangers my horse — my horse and his horse. He could have done a lot of damage to these horses like that. They’re not toys.”
The next day, stewards suspended Espinoza for three days for his ride and fined Gomez $750 for starting the fight.
If Espinoza was trying to get even with Gomez for an earlier incident—and I’m not suggesting that was his motive; only he knows for sure—it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened in horse racing.
The worst incident I ever saw occurred at Hollywood Park on May 29, 1981, when Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. and Frank Olivares rode recklessly throughout a 1 1/16-mile turf race, using their horses almost as weapons against one another.
At the start, Olivares and his mount, Magic Star, crossed over in front of Pincay and Derbyeightywon, causing the latter to steady. Pincay then took off after Olivares as the field came out of the infield chute and onto the main turf course, and veering over on him rounding the first turn, causing Olivares and his mount to check sharply. Olivares then retaliated against Pincay. Neither had any gas left for the actual race and finished third from last and last.
After they unsaddled their mounts, the two jockeys began shoving each other and throwing punches near the winner’s circle. The two had bad blood between them going back five years earlier when Olivares thought Pincay caused him to be thrown from his mount in the 1976 Del Mar Futurity. They went toe to toe after that race, too.
In the 1981 brawl, I was watching from the press box at Hollywood Park as Pincay and Olivares went after each other. No one seemed willing to step in and break it up until the late Jan Siegel, who owned Derbyeightywon with husband Mace, came up behind Pincay and put a full Nelson on him and dragged him away from Olivares. It was quite a sight. The two jockeys were fined just $250 for their behavior. Incredibly, no suspensions were meted out for their dangerous rides.
(Olivares, incidentally, is the father of TVG analyst/reporter Christine Olivares, while Pincay’s son, Laffit Pincay III, is a host/analyst HRTV Not exactly the Hatfields and the McCoys, but interesting how rivalries can continue in unlikely ways.)
Thirty years later, the cost of fighting has gone up somewhat, but $750 is certainly not going to be a deterrent to keep the same thing from happening again some day. Likewise, a three-day suspension for Espinoza from the stewards for “altering course without sufficient clearance” isn’t going to make a jockey think twice about closing a hole and possibly putting other riders and horses at risk. What will it take for stewards to be a little tougher on these riders: a spill where one jockey is severely injured…or worse?
Interestingly, according to Daily Racing Form, California Horse Racing Board steward Scott Cheney began the hearing with Espinoza by saying, “”We don’t believe this was anything intentional.”
That’s taking innocent until proven guilty to a completely new level.
Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report
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