The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has ordered jockey Pascacio “Paco” Lopez to serve 27 days of stewards’ suspensions, including seven days at Gulfstream Park’s 2009 meet that begins Jan. 3.
Under a consent order the Florida DPMW released Dec. 5, 20 of Lopez’s suspension days are retroactive. Thus, he is eligible to resume riding in Florida on Dec. 8 -- including at Calder Race Course.
But Calder director of communications Michele Blanco said the track and its parent Churchill Downs Inc. will continue to exclude Lopez from Calder and other CDI tracks through Jan. 2, 2009. Calder and CDI barred Lopez on Nov. 14, without disclosing reasons. They took that action three days after a spill that involved Lopez.
Separately, the Florida DPMW was reviewing suspensions of 65 days that Calder stewards had given Lopez for alleged violations that included careless riding.
Lopez plans to resume riding at Tampa Bay Downs’ meet that begins Dec. 13, said his agent Corey Moran.
Lopez, a 23-year old native of Mexico, led jockeys in wins with 161 for the Calder meet that ended Oct. 19. He sat out 13 suspension days for that meet. He appealed five other suspensions totaling 65 days. That included 30 days for an Aug. 4 incident that stewards determined was a careless ride.
On Nov. 26, Lopez agreed to a consent order with the Florida DPMW that was an apparent compromise. David Roberts, director of the Florida DPMW, approved and signed the order Dec. 5.
For the 30-day suspension, the state regulator gave Lopez credit for seven days voluntarily served. It also suspended him for 13 days at Calder, beginning Nov. 21, and for seven days to be served at Gulfstream.
The Florida DPMW waived the other three days, citing Lopez’s “acknowledgement of the serious nature of race riding infractions, which may cause serious injury to himself and others” and his “stated desire to obtain the necessary training to avoid future racing incidents of a similar nature.”
The order vacated the other suspension days that Lopez had appealed. It noted the “inadvertent unavailability of audio recordings for review of oral testimony” at previous hearings and “the undue burden that holding de novo stewards’ hearings in the above cases would impose on all parties at this time.”
Roberts said the CDI and Calder ban on Lopez is a separate issue, which he has not discussed with those parties.
“It looks like we have wrapped up all of the issues in his (Lopez’s) suspensions,” said Carl Lida, an attorney who represented Lopez in his appeals of those suspensions. “We came to an amicable agreement, on which neither side was fully happy.”
Lida said he has not had formal discussions with CDI about its ban of Lopez. “That is an independent issue,” he said. “We are hopeful there will be no issues next spring, and that it will be appropriate for him to re-apply there if he chooses.”
Calder will begin its 2009 meet in late April, but has not announced dates.
“Paco wants to ride again, and he is in Tampa,” Moran said. “We expect he will ride there until he is eligible to ride at Gulfstream.”
Moran said Lopez has been working horses on mornings at Gulfstream for several trainers including Wesley Ward, Eddie Plesa, Jr., and David Fawkes.
Tampa Bay Downs officials said they had not seen the Florida DPMW consent order. They added that the track “will follow the ruling set forth by the State of Florida when it receives confirmation of said ruling.” That indicates Tampa Bay Downs will permit Lopez to ride.
Lopez had a five-pound weight allowance for non-stakes races until Sept. 8. Plesa and Fawkes are among trainers for whom he rode in stakes and other Calder races before and after he lost his apprentice status.
He has been mentioned as a candidate for this year’s Eclipse Award for Apprentice Jockey.
Lopez rode 27 winners at Calder’s Tropical at Calder meet, before he was barred from the track.
There is a widespread view that CDI took that step because of a Nov. 11 Calder race during which a horse ridden by Lopez clipped the heels of a horse in front of it.
Lopez and his mount Survi Star fell, but both escaped injury. Thunderula and its jockey Christian Dominguez fell trying to avoid Survi Star. Dominguez suffered a broken wrist. His horse was not injured.