Diamond In The Rough?

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 17, 2008 in General Discussion, News | No Comments >>

Remember the days when Cordero would push you against the rail, or over it? How Don Brumfield raisied his whip higher to strike, than Babe Ruth at the plate? How about that picture in your mind of the riders coming down the lane whipping each other to the wire? That was tough.

I have watched this young man ride, and Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) has imposed their justice on this talented rider. Like it or not, you have to play by the rules. I think after some time, and sharpening his skills, this guy will be one to be reckoned with.

CDI said Nov. 14 that it has barred Pascacio “Paco” Lopez, this year’s leading jockey at Calder Race Course, from riding at Calder and other CDI-owned tracks through Jan. 2, 2009, which is the end of the Tropical at Calder meet. The prohibition also includes current meets at Churchill Downs and Fair Grounds.

Officials at Calder in Miami Gardens, Fla., declined comment beyond announcing CDI’s exclusion of Lopez. However, the action is undoubtedly related to the more than 60 days of suspensions that Calder stewards have handed Lopez this year for what they consider to be riding infractions. He has appealed several suspensions, including a 30-day ban that is now being reviewed by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

In a Calder race on Nov. 11, a horse ridden by Lopez clipped heels with a horse ridden by Christian Dominguez. Both horses fell and did not finish the race. Dominguez was expected to miss four to five weeks of action after sustaining a fracture to his right wrist.

Calder officials would not say whether that incident may have contributed to CDI tracks barring Lopez for the remainder of 2008.

Lopez, a 23-year old native of Mexico, has been one of this year’s biggest Calder stories. His aggressive riding style has earned him top mounts and generated controversy. He had a five-pound allowance in non-stakes races, until he lost his apprentice status on Sept. 8. He has been mentioned as a top candidate for this year’s apprentice jockey Eclipse Award.

Lopez led jockeys with 161 wins at the Calder meet, which ended Oct. 19. He did that despite missing 13 days because of suspensions. Manoel Cruz was second with 121 wins. Through Nov. 14, Lopez led Tropical at Calder jockeys with 27 wins. Cruz was second with 15.