Following a 90-minute hearing Feb. 14 that included expert testimony and a bitter exchange, Gulfstream Park's stewards reduced the suspension of jockey Eibar Coa from 30 days to 20, with an additional five days to be lopped off if he does not appeal. Coa's agent, Joe Ferrer, indicated Coa did not plan an appeal.
The suspension, scheduled to commence Feb. 17, is for "extreme careless riding in the 10th race on Saturday, Jan. 26 (the Fort Lauderdale Handicap) while astride #3, Mr. Livingston."
During the 1 1/16-mile race, Coa twice forced Jerry Bailey, aboard favored Del Mar Show, to check sharply when Bailey sought running room inside Mr. Livingston. With a tape of the race rolling, Bailey described in the hearing what transpired during the $100,000 race that, amazingly, he was able to win despite the trip.
"In my opinion, nobody is forcing him in," Bailey said of the incidents around the clubhouse turn and then again down the backstretch. "He came over and pushed me into the hedge. I was either going to go directly into the hedge or I had to take up."
Bailey also detailed an argument the two had Jan. 23 following a race in which Coa believes Bailey interfered with him. "After that race he said, 'It's official; for the rest of the meet it's you and me.'"
Watching the same video, Coa spoke of the "split-second" decision he had to make when North East Bound drifted in front of him on the turn. "I went inside (North East Bound) to avoid clipping heels, and I got close to Bailey but nothing happened there."
Then, while watching repeated replays of the incident on the backstretch, Coa commented: "I didn't expect (Bailey) to make that move--he really surprised me--and I reacted late. I tried to get in there first, but I should have just taken back. It was my mistake. I made a bad judgment trying to go for that inside hole."
Later, he said: "It was just too bad for me that the race happened two days after my comment because I never do anything to try to hurt somebody. I didn't make that move to try to hurt Jerry or the horse; I was just trying to win the race."
Much of the steward's questioning surrounded the issue of intent, and Coa's attorney Jeff Weiner asked Hall of Fame jockeys Bob Ussery and Jorge Velasquez during the hearing to speak to both that and the length of the initial suspension.
"It wasn't intentional," said Ussery, who at one point swapped stories with steward Walter Blum, also a former rider, of the sometimes contentious riding style of Eddie Arcaro. " I don't think that incident calls for 30 days."
Velasquez agreed. "I don't think it was intentional, and I don't think it deserved 30 days," he said. In a prepared affidavit, Chris McCarron testified to a similar opinion.
Trainer Luis Olivares, who also testified on behalf of Coa, exchanged sharp words with Blum as he blamed Bailey for twice going into a narrow opening that should have been avoided. "If you hit my car in a parking, lot I'm not going to park next to you again," he said.
But Blum, while not defending Bailey's ride, pointed out that Coa's suspension would have been far more than 30 days had Bailey fallen. "It wasn't willful but, with Coa's experience, it was unnecessary and uncalled for."
Blum and fellow stewards Jeffrey Noe and Charles Camac also sought to dispute reports of long-standing enmity against the 30-year-old Venezuelan by describing positive interaction through the years, but when Noe asked Coa directly if he felt the stewards singled him out for punishment, the jockey responded, "Sometimes it feels like it."
In his closing statements, Weiner remarked that Coa's reputation had already been "irreparably harmed" by the publicity generated by the incident and that the suspension should be reduced to "10 to 15 days max."
The stewards agreed. "He showed us that he knows he made a mistake and we can expect from that for him to ride more safely in the future," Camac said of his reasons for the reduced penalty. "That is all that we can ask."