John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009


Race Riding or Reckless Riding, That Is the Question


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 27, 2009--The news that jockey Jaime Theriot would appeal a 30-day suspension meted out by the Illinois Racing Board for his role in an accident that left Rene Douglas partially paralyzed in a Chicago hospital was inevitable.

Thirty days, as opposed to the usual seven given for careless riding. Is the larger penalty supposed to represent justice for an accident that barring a miracle has changed a man’s life forever?

Is 30 days enough if Theriot was careless to the point of recklessness? Is a thousand thirty days enough? If what the doctors fear is true, is it just that Theriot goes back to work at all?

Pity that any suspension was levied out without a full hearing. And had Theriot not filed an appeal, there would have been no hearing. Theriot would just have to live with the knowledge of his actions; Douglas would have to live with the consequences.

Does the longer suspension mean that Theriot was reckless when he sought running room with a raging mount? Or was he just race riding, just trying his best to win?
Three weeks ago, the sports world went gaga when Calvin Borel literally scraped paint in midstretch, squeezing tightly between a rival and the fence to win the Kentucky Derby.

What if, at the instant Borel threaded his mount between another rival and the fence, his rival lugged in? Mine That Bird might not be alive today, much less trying to win a second jewel. For that matter, neither might Borel and his dream of a personal trifecta.

Had there been a Derby incident, would Borel’s tactics been viewed as reckless? But get through he did, becoming a national sports hero courted by both Leno and Letterman.

Race riding is dangerous business. It’s why these underappreciated athletes earn big money--20 percent of them, anyway--while the rest labor in the shadows cast by the game’s stars simply trying to support themselves and their families.

Jockeys talk about the danger of the profession all the time and in the same fashion. They acknowledge danger as part of the business but they don’t think about it. If they did they wouldn’t be able to do the job.

A jockey’s livelihood demands split-second decisions and taking risks. You hear the apt quote regarding their job description all the time: Jockeys are the only athletes followed by an ambulance while they’re working.

A good point was made this week that what Theriot did is something that occurs many times every racing day. Horses get steadied and checked all the time, only this time it resulted in an accident.

The question remains: race-riding or recklessness?

Parenthetically, in New York right now, a relatively new jockey on the circuit has been so reckless that the rider was approached by a present and future Hall of Famer who proffered advice. Their attempt at a heads-up was summarily and rudely rejected.

The same sources informed HRI that the rider in question dangerously rail-rode Rajiv Maragh in a recent Belmont Park race. Hopefully, the stewards there will investigate the matter before something untoward occurs or a messenger is shot.

The 30-day suspension has pinned a guilty sign on Theriot’s back without benefit of a full investigation that goes with the appeals process.

If transparency truly existed and stewards were made to submit full written reports in the commission of their duties, all might have a better understanding of what happened last weekend and what punishment, if any, is appropriate.

Theriot’s career recently had taken off. No one knows what effect Saturday’s incident will have on his professional future. Or how living with the knowledge of what happened in the 2009 Arlington Matron Handicap will affect him personally.

Bumping incidents happen dozens of times a day, but the majority are ignored, no inquiry is posted, no objection lodged. No physical harm, no outcome altered, no foul. It never happened.

Just as racetrackers must admit when an otherwise sound horse takes a bad step resulting in tragedy that it’s part of the game, so, too, is what happened to Rene Douglas, only on a larger, human scale.

So it’s very important that people know whether Theriot was race riding or being reckless. Either way, the 30-day ban isn’t tough love and doesn’t send a message. Justice was not served by this ad hoc decision and neither was it good public relations.

There might be extenuating circumstances that makes sense of all this, but since there are no uniform standards, no mandated transparency, rule-makers will continue making things up as they go, even in an over-regulated industry.

Until the results of the hearing are known, the 30-day suspension by the Illinois Racing Board is the collective action of judge, jury and executioner before the fact. And how does that do anyone involved in this sad situation any good?

Written by John Pricci

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