Jockey Victor Espinoza has received a three-day suspension for his riding in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 3, while Garrett Gomez was fined $750 for punching Espinoza afterward.
Meanwhile, trainer Bob Baffert, who described Gomez's ride aboard the 4-5 favorite, Lookin At Lucky , as "horrendous," said he would allow Gomez to continue to ride his colt. Lookin At Lucky is expected to be a leading contender in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at Churchill Downs May 1.
Espinoza's suspension begins April 11. California Horse Racing Board stewards at Santa Anita Park handed down the penalties April 4.
Espinoza was suspended for allowing his horse, Who's Up, to drift toward the rail near the five-sixteenths pole, impeding Lookin At Lucky. Gomez was forced to take up severely and lost all chance of catching the front-running Sidney's Candy, who went on to a 4 1/2-length win. According to steward Tom Ward, Gomez was fined for his actions after the race.
Lookin at Lucky rallied in the stretch to finish third in the Santa Anita Derby, 1 1/2 lengths behind the runner-up Setsuko. Who's Up, who was fading after contesting the pace, finished ninth in the 10-horse field.
Stewards conducted an inquiry into the incident immediately after the race but took no action. An incensed Gomez, however, chased down Espinoza at the weigh-out scale and an altercation ensued, with Gomez landing a couple of blows.
Jill Baffert, wife of Bob Baffert, verbally took Espinoza to task outside the jockeys’ room after the race, but Espinoza said apologies were exchanged later that night.
“Lookin At Lucky looks fantastic today,” said Bob Baffert, who is seeking his fourth Derby win. “He’s happy, so that’s good. He leaves April 12 (for Churchill Downs) and yeah, Gomez will ride him back."
The two-time Eclipse Award winner has ridden the son of Smart Strike in each of his eight races.
“Garrett came by the barn this morning and we talked things over," Baffert said. "I didn’t like where the horse was the first 100 yards, but I should have told Garrett exactly what to do. I just left it up to him, and I messed it up."
“In the Rebel (Stakes March 13), he was really knocked out after the race," Baffert said of Lookin At Lucky. "But this is the best the horse has ever come out of a race. He was ice cold and he was bouncing. We learned a lot about the horse that will really help his chances in the Derby.
"We got beat by a very nice horse (in Sidney’s Candy), and you can’t make any mistakes against a horse like that. We’re not the favorite (for the Derby) anymore. We’ve dropped down a few notches, but what the hell. California 3-year-olds are very good this year. They’re tough.”
Trainer John Sadler, who won his first Santa Anita Derby, reported that Sidney's Candy "came back good," though plans for shipping the son of Candy Ride to Kentucky have not been set.
“We don’t have a departure date yet. We’ll play it by ear, but we’re not going for at least a week,” he said.
The Derby would be the first race for Sidney’s Candy on a dirt after six starts on synthetics. “I don’t think he’s going to have a problem,” Sadler said. “He’s a good horse.”
Trainer Richard Mandella said runner-up Setsuko "came out of the race great," and he's hoping for a spot in the Derby depending on how the graded-stakes earnings situation shakes out. With $150,000 for his Santa Anita Derby effort, Setsuko has $180,000 in graded earnings.