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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 2, 2022 – When it comes to the game’s highs and lows, fans and bettors alike know how brutal this game can be. So, to paraphrase wartime consiglieri Tom Hagan, we insist on sharing bad news immediately.

Over the weekend, international riding star Christophe Soumillon received a 60-day suspension from France Galop stewards for mugging fellow rider Ryan Rossa. If a picture indeed is worth a thousand words, check this:

During the running of Friday’s Thomas Byron Stakes, Soumillon veered out with Syros to get within striking distance of Rossa Ryan, astride Captain Wierzba, elbowing him and knocking Ryan off his mount.

Fortunately, the fallen rider was not seriously injured but given the manner in which he was knocked off his horse, landing on his head and neck, Ryan is lucky to be alive. Every time a rider hits the ground the result could be catastrophic.

Per the head-on view, the excuse that he was trying to maintain position is disingenuous. Instead, he appeared to seek out his rival and the egregious nature of the thrown elbow, in our view, demands more than a 60-day ban.

According to rule, Soumillon’s 60-day ban will begin in two weeks, but there was much sentiment among fans and horsemen that the suspension should have begun immediately.

Instead, Soumillon rode Vadeni to a runner-up finish in Sunday’s storied Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. According to the Guardian website, a French official stated they are considering changing the rule to start bans for this type of action immediately.

Stated Soumillon Friday: “As for all the people who love racing, it was not a nice act from my side and I’m terribly sorry and want to apologize for what happened today…

“I’m going to be suspended for two months, it’s a very big thing. Unfortunately, my end of season is now gone, but I accept the sentence for what I did.”

Luckily, Ryan was able to walk back on his own power back to Saint-Cloud’s medical facilities. “Straight away I knew I made a mistake,” Soumillon told Sky Sports Racing. “I’m terribly sad for what happened. I’m happy the jockey is fine and the horse, too.”

Rough riding in major races continued on Saturday, only this time in  America, the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs.

With positive momentum, the rallier passed the leader in deep stretch, then Kentucky Derby-winning rider Sonny Leon made oft-criticized Irad Ortiz Jr. look like a choir boy by comparison.

Reminiscent of the 2021 Remsen Stakes in which Ortiz threw a few obvious elbows in a close head-to-head battle, this was different. Rich Strike ran by Hot Rod Charlie when Leon decided purposefully to alter his mount’s course inside in order to intimidate.

In making contact inside the sixteenth pole, he threw four or five consecutive, perhaps six, rapid-fire elbows. Meanwhile, Tyler Gaffalione and Hot Rod Charlie held their ground, fought back, and edged away in the final jumps for a narrow victory.

On Sunday, the Churchill stewards justifiably suspended Leon 15 days.

We have said it before and will again: The industry—are you reading this HISA officials?—must do something about this scourge of race-riding that more closely resembles rough riding than simply employing winning tactics.

Alas, there were some positives that helped balance the scales a bit. Pegasus-reincarnate Flightline was back on the work tab for the first time since his Pacific Classic tour de force. He breezed five furlongs in a minute, more open gallop than work.

As impressive was the gallop out that he cruised around the clubhouse turn and kept his momentum until reaching the area of the six-furlong pole. Awesome comes easily to this guy.

But of all the races were saw Saturday, the most impressive belonged to the fastest pacer ever, world-record-holder Bulldog Hanover who took the Dayton Derby Grand Circuit Stake in extraordinary style.

By his standards, a mile in 1:50 and a tick is slow, no match for his 1:45 4/5 world record in the Haughton Memorial at The Meadowlands, or his 1: 46 3/5 in the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby, or the 1:46 4/5 win at Woodbine. It was the manner of victory that caught the eye.

Never mind that he never saw the pylons the entire mile and needed to brush 3-wide on far turn, he paced home powerfully, Dexter Dunn simply a passenger. He was still strong on the far turn and didn’t stop until Dunn finally pulled him up on the backside. Check Race 12 at Dayton Raceway, OCT. 1.

At the end of the day, the good horses saved the weekend–almost.

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8 Responses

  1. Meanwhile, Irad Ortiz was winning the turf stake at Aqueduct at 10/1 odds on both Saturday AND Sunday while being an angel on the track.

    That Sonny Leon garbage was just insane. Maybe they can use that as the valid excuse to switch over to a better jockey.

    1. Doc, certainly can make the case that in all likelihood Leon’s tactics cost Rich Strike the win; he already had passed HRC.

      I, too, have noticed that Irad has been much more deliberate–in a good way. He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer that doesn’t need to resort to extreme forms of race-riding. Hope the lesson that he appears to have learned stays with him; good for him!

      1. 100% agree. Irad could legitimately be the in the all time greatest jockey discussion; he just needs to ride on the right side of the gray area – like he has been doing for the most part since mid-Saratoga.

        I’d be really surprised if Leon keeps the mount. I think he stole a win from Rich Strike in order to settle some sort of beef.

  2. Doc, not sure any personal agenda was involved, just a case of bad judgment on Leon’s part. If it was purposeful–and it sure looked that way–maybe the message was I can ride with these guys, and he sure can.
    But he didn’t need to go out of his way to prove it. He moved his tack to South Florida which, of course, has always been a springboard to elite tracks in the rest of the country and in many cases a Hall of Fame career.

    1. John,
      Watching the head on,I noticed that Tyler rode hard until they crossed the line, then looked over and probably said something unprintable to Leon. In my opinion IF it was unintentional, Tyler would have known that.

      1. Makes sense to me Mark, but it’s not my opinion that matters, it’s the stewards, and they spoke loudly. Do believe originally that while delayed, Irad got the same 15 days in the Remsen incident. He’s seems more under control these days and that’s a good thing. His God-given talent should be enough, especially when you ride on a regular basis for Todd, Chad, etc.

    2. That’s fair. I could see wanting to show the top level jocks that I don’t mind doing what it takes just like you guys, if you were in his shoes. Just really bad judgement on this one.

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