By T. D. Thornton
Eighteen-year-old jockey Axel Concepcion, who is currently Maryland's top apprentice and is on the cusp of a planned move to Kentucky that could launch him into contention for a rookie rider Eclipse Award, has again been suspended 30 days by the Delaware Park stewards for “careless riding” that caused a rival horse to crash to the track.
“This is Apprentice Jockey Axel Concepcion's second incident within a week of causing interference that resulted in a horse falling and a rider to be unseated,” stated the Oct. 6 stewards' ruling.
Delaware stewards Joelyn Rigione, Robert Colton and William Troilo cited Concepcion's actions aboard Speargun (Khozan) in the sixth race at Delaware Oct. 4 as the cause of a spill that dropped Golden Gulley (Goldencents) and jockey Jeiron Barbosa as the midpack horses raced in tight formation around the far turn. Both the fallen horse and its jockey appeared to escape serious injury, according to the stewards.
Concepcion's agent in Maryland, Tom Stift, confirmed to TDN that Concepcion plans to lodge an appeal and is in the process of hiring an attorney to contest his most recent 30-day suspension.
Concepcion had elected not to appeal the first 30-day suspension for “extremely careless” riding that stemmed from a Sept. 21 incident at Delaware that resulted in the euthanization of a horse that had fallen, plus an emergency decision by the stewards to halt the race and declare it a “no contest” for wagering purposes.
“Both of them weren't intentional if you watch them,” Stift said. “The end result was bad in the first one, but it was just something that could have happened to anybody because the horse was lugging in so hard. It wasn't like he was trying to come down on people. I can't really say it was as bad as [the stewards] said, but we took the days without appealing.”
Under Delaware rules, not lodging that appeal cut the suspension from 30 to 21 days.
The ruling for that first Sept. 21 incident stated that Concepcion failed “to control and guide his mount, Backwoods Boogie (Red Rocks [IRE]), leaving the starting gate, impeding several horses, and causing the horse Trumpence (Eskendereya) to fall, which resulted in a fatal injury to Trumpence.
The Sept. 21 report for race seven submitted by the Delaware stewards stated that Trumpence, ridden by Kevin Gomez, “clipped heels past the finish the first time” and that “horse and rider were down and not moving.”
The warning lights and siren were activated, and “The gate crew was out on the track also, diverting the field to the outside. Horse was euthanized on the track when he couldn't get up, Jockey Kevin Gomez after some time was able to stand and be escorted to the ambulance,” the report stated. (Gomez resumed riding the next afternoon at Delaware, winning with his first mount.)
Concepcion's suspension for the Sept. 21 incident didn't go into effect until Oct. 7.
In the interim, he was involved in another spill-marred race Oct. 4 in which the stewards alleged he was again at fault.
“The second one, it's mitigating circumstances,” Stift said. “It could have been caused by somebody on the inside, so that's why we're appealing that one.”
The Delaware stewards described the sixth race Oct. 4 like this in their daily report:
“Golden Gulley (Barbosa) clipped heels around the 3/8 pole and fell. Stewards reviewed the incident and determined that #5 Speargun (Concepcion) ran into a tight spot as #8 It's Sizzling Time (Gomez) was running by appearing to come in slightly as #7 was pushed out slightly causing him to clip heels. #7 Golden Gulley was captured by the Outrider, no report on his condition but appeared not injured. Jockey Barbosa was off the rest of his mounts complaining of soreness.” (Barbosa resumed riding Oct. 6 at Laurel and won three races.)
The ruling suspending Concepcion for a second time stated that, “After reviewing the race, the Stewards found Mr. Concepcion to use poor judgment in riding his horse (Speargun) into a very tight spot in the middle of the far turn causing his horse to push a rival over heels resulting in the rival to fall and unseating the rider.”
Beyond the spill, the sixth race at Delaware Oct. 4 was also fraught with technical difficulties.
According to the Equibase chart, “There was no head on replay so notes are from pan view.”
The stewards' report also stated that, “There was a Tote delay, Stewards board locked up and could not remove the inquiry sign, placing Judge's computer board also locked up.”
Concepcion turned pro Jan. 1 in his native Puerto Rico. He won 21 races there before earning his first mainland U.S. victory Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds. He shifted his tack to Laurel a week later, and has since been among the leaders at the Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course meets while also picking up victories at other mid-Atlantic region tracks.
Asked how Concepcion was taking the suspension, Stift said, “He's upset, because he was going to go to Kentucky. So now that's on delay. He's still going, but not right away. He has an opportunity to ride for [trainer] Brad Cox, and Brad's son [Bryson] is going to be his agent. I'm actually in Puerto Rico with his family right now. We're out on a boat. Even though he's leaving me, we're still all really good friends and I hope the best for him.”
Bryson Cox told TDN that Concepcion's starting date for riding in Kentucky after serving his 21-day reduced first suspension was supposed to dovetail with the Oct. 29 opening day of the Churchill Downs meet. Cox said he now must wait and see how the appeal turns out before he can start booking Concepcion on mounts.
“We'll come up with a game plan. I would definitely like to get him into a rotation with some Kentucky-based trainers in November, and the plan is to go on to Turfway from there,” Cox said.
Cox, who has been a jockey agent for one year, also represents Chris Landeros.
Cox said he and Concepcion became acquainted when the rider followed him on Twitter earlier this year. Cox had been perusing the Puerto Rican races and noticed Concepcion was winning races in bunches. A few weeks later, he saw Concepcion win with a 10-pound allowance in New Orleans, and he wished him well on his planned move to Maryland in the spring. They stayed in touch over the summer.
“As time went on, I kept watching him, and obviously his success and stats speak for themselves,” Cox said. “He seems to be a pretty talented rider for an apprentice. I asked him what his plans were this winter, what he wanted to do, and he told me he wanted to branch out from Maryland and Delaware, the mid-Atlantic. And I said, 'I think Turfway would be a great spot for you. You could get in with some Kentucky-based people and see how it goes and roll from there,' And he was all for it.”
Cox continued, touching on specific trainers who might offer opportunities: “I've had my Dad and Joe Sharp watch him some. Chris Hartman. I know Axel is 1-for-1 with Mike Maker; he won a Maryland-bred stakes with Field Pass (Lemon Drop Kid) at Laurel” in the $75,000 Find S. on Aug. 18.
“Here it's one of those circuits where you're going to get on as many horses you work in the morning it seems like,” Cox said. “So it's dependent on how hard he wants to work in the mornings, and I know he's got a great work ethic to build business over time.”