Santa Anita Park's stewards issued jockey Kent Desormeaux an official warning June 10 for his controversial actions during a workout May 28 at the Southern California racetrack.
Kim Sawyer said Saturday that she and her fellow stewards would have taken harsher action, but they could not find a rule within the California Horse Racing Board guidelines to employ for Desormeaux's actions aboard Cicero Farms' Demonslayer May 28.
During the workout, the Hall of Fame rider whipped Demonslayer as he finished up nearing the wire, then during the gallop out the jockey struck the horse on the shoulder three times, with short breaks in between. Video of the work was posted on xbtv.com, but was taken down abruptly May 29, when negative reaction on social media began to swell.
"We could have very easily penalized him, but we couldn't find a rule to use," said Sawyer, who indicated there is a CHRB proposal in the works to address whip use during workouts. "What was upsetting to me was that he hit the horse after the workout."
Desormeaux said Saturday that the reason he struck Demonslayer during the gallop out was because he felt the horse was going to "prop," or dig in his front legs and stop abruptly. During the gallop out, he was upright in a standing position in the irons.
"He was trying to pull up and prop," Desormeaux said June 10, in response to the stewards' warning. "The only difference between me and other guys was I was standing up and not (riding with) my hands. If (Demonslayer) had his way, he would have turned around or stopped entirely."
The stewards didn't find the jockey's explanation valid.
"I think it's fair to say we didn't buy the propping explanation," Sawyer said.
Demonslayer's trainer, Bob Hess Jr., said he was watching the workout from the Santa Anita grandstand with the horse's owners. While Hess said he was initially concerned with Desormeaux's actions, after talking to the jockey, he felt the rider took appropriate action.
"The horse is cantankerous," Hess said. "We trust Kent, but we were concerned. (Demonslayer) has a has a habit of knowing where the wire is and hitting the air brakes. Kent has been riding for me for 20 years. It was for Kent's safety. Personally we both hate to hit a horse. I have a policy not to hit horses in my barn, because they can't hit back. If you want to hit a horse, come and hit me, because I can hit back."
Desormeaux rode Demonslayer to a fifth-place finish in an optional-claiming allowance race June 1 at Santa Anita, four days after the workout in question. It was the Tale of the Cat gelding's first race since April of 2016, when he came in eighth in the Echo Eddie Stakes, also at Santa Anita.