Some of you may remember the “Rubbing Is Racing” quote from the old Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder.
Rubbing and race riding are not exactly the same thing. In Nascar the drivers have a pretty big machine and a steel cage to protect them. In horse racing, well not so much. That said, I’ll be clear, I am a big fan of “race riding” and feel it is an important part of the sport. I think the best of jockeys have to be good race riders and capable of some race riding when it is needed or warranted. Race riding is not a subjective thing as some would like to think. It is objective and has a definition.
Race riding is when you ride aggressively or in an intimidating manner to another horse and rider in order to help you win or achieve your best possible finish. Race riding is NOT when you ride to help someone else win or cause someone else to lose or not achieve their best placing. That is just a cheap shot, poor sportsmanship or whatever you may chose to call it. Angel Cordero Jr., aboard Codex, race rode Jacinto Vasquez aboard Genuine Risk in the 1980 Preakness. That is race riding.
What we saw in the last race on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, the H. Allen Jerkens stakes, was not race riding. It was a clear, blatant, obvious, and seemingly intentional foul by Irad Ortiz against Paco Lopez. The fact it helped Irad’s brother Jose win the race only added insult to injury.
Here is the set up.:
Jose Ortiz was aboard heavily favored American Tattoo for trainer Todd Pletcher. He was the main if not only speed and was expected to win. Irad Ortiz rode Carom, who was a turf horse trying the dirt after weather caused a surface change. Pace Lopez rode Shazier for Carlo Vaccarezza. Turning for home the race came down to these three. American Tattoo was on the lead but had worked harder to maintain it than it looked on paper that he would have to. Shazier was stalking with some gas in the tank under Lopez. He was obviously looking for some room or a chance to get out and we note nobody is obligated to give that to him. Carom was second on the outside, and was spent after trying to make a move into American Tattoo he couldn’t sustain.
As the threesome turned for home, Irad, already with the tank on empty, looked inside right at Paco and leaned in on him to make sure he could not get out and go after brother Jose on American Tattoo. Lopez tried to force the issue and Irad leaned in harder causing the two horses to bump one another off stride. Announcer Pete Aiello called it bumper cars out there. If Irad had not looked at Paco first, and then shifted his weight in the saddle towards the inside, you could make the argument his horse leaned in because he was tired. He did look over though, twice. That pretty much negates any incidental or accidental theories.
American Tattoo was able to get home to a good closing Shazier who would have definitely been closer if not the winner if he had not been held up at a crucial point in the race. That we will never know for sure. There was no inquiry as Shazier finished in front of Carom. There was no foul claim by Paco either. He beat the horse who fouled him.
Of course social media erupted with all the self proclaimed experts weighing in with all the differing opinions. Some things in racing are subjective. Some aren’t. This wasn’t. The tactics Irad used helped his brother win, caused Paco to lose, and robbed the bettors who needed Shazier to win of any chance of cashing their tickets in a game and sport that is difficult enough to win at on a level playing field. It also cost the connections of Shazier any chance at the win money. Interestingly enough Carlo Vaccarezza did not seem to care taking to social media to tell the masses to stop it already, Irad is a great rider.
Carlo is correct, Irad is a great rider. So is his brother Jose. They are outstanding athletes and excellent at what they do. We at Past the Wire are big supporters of both of them. That was never the issue here, and the fact they are where they are, makes this type of thing a little worse. It is uncalled for. This was not a struggling rider fighting for a rare win to pay the bills. This was a leading money winner, Eclipse Award winner giving his brother an assist. That is a bad look for a game that needs as many good looks as it can get, especially now. If the Gulfstream Park stewards don’t take a long hard look at this they would be negligent in their duties and condoning a bad practice and precedent.
Some people rationalized that this was “OK” because it was Paco Lopez who has a reputation as a rough rider, a race rider if you will. He has even been called reckless and at times dangerous. That may or may not be the case but either way it does not get Irad a pass here. Those things can be settled in the jocks room if need be, not on the racetrack at the expense of the Sport of Kings and others.
Irad is a fine young man. We can only hope he takes our comments as constructive and for the good of the game, and him as well.