By Bill Finley
Though admitting that he deserved his eight-day suspension after being the aggressor in an altercation with Paco Lopez following a July 1 race at Monmouth, Nik Juarez has some choice words for his fellow jockey, calling him “careless and someone who has no regard for his fellow riders.”
Lopez was suspended five days for his ride aboard Midnight Diva (Midnight Lute) in that day's seventh race. Juarez was suspended for eight days and fined $500 for “initiating a physical confrontation with another jockey.”
According to the footnote of the race, Midnight Diva came out midway on the far turn and impeded Juarez's mount, La Costa (Archarcharch). La Costa clipped heels with Midnight Diva, stumbled badly and was pulled up by Juarez. Midnight Diva crossed the wire third but was disqualified and placed last.
A New Jersey Racing Commission ruling issued July 13 noted that, “Mr. Lopez came out changing paths without sufficient clearance, causing #5 LA COSTA to clip heels and stumble badly, losing all chance.”
Lopez has been suspended numerous times in recent years for careless or rough riding, and Juarez is not the first rider to accuse Lopez of often riding in a reckless manner. The TDN was unable to reach Lopez for comment by deadline for this story.
The fight took place after the race when both riders were at the scales to weigh out.
Juarez had traveled back and forth to Sweden to be there for the birth of his daughter and rushed back to New Jersey to fulfill his riding obligations. He said the travel was difficult and he was frazzled.
“I had, literally, spent 31 hours on planes,” he said. “My daughter was born the day before the incident. My wife is still stuck in Sweden. It was a whirlwind week. Flight cancellations, delays, they lost my bag. It was a nightmare.”
He said his newborn daughter was on his mind when Lopez cut him off.
“He was smirking at me,” Juarez said. “I had just held my baby girl the day before and he just did something that could have cost me my life. He knows what he did and he's done it before. He has no remorse. He never called Romero Maragh in the hospital after he dropped him and the kid broke his neck. I know he would never do anything for me. To know you're riding out there every day with someone like that, it's touchy.”
Juarez said riding against someone like Lopez is like driving on the same road with a dangerous driver.
“Imagine if you are diving to work every day and are driving with the same eight, nine guys every day,” he said. “Just the same people. But you know one guy doesn't give a [expletive]. One day he's going to cut you off, one day he's not. Would you feel safe driving?
Despite his feelings toward Lopez, Juarez said he got what he deserved from the stewards.
“With me, they sent the right message because I deserve my punishment,” Juarez said. “I took things into my own hands and if I did that out on the street there would be repercussions with the authorities. I have to let the authorities do their job. On my end, I think they were fair. I am ashamed of how I acted. What they do with him is out of my control.”
Earlier this year, Lopez was handed a 14-day suspension by the Gulfstream stewards for his ride aboard In Due Time (Not This Time) in the GII Fountain of Youth S., in which two horses fell. In 2019, the Gulfstream stewards hit Lopez with a 30-day suspension for careless riding and causing a spill that resulted in Maragh undergoing surgery for two broken vertebrae and Carlos Montalvo suffering a fractured ankle. In 2021, Lopez got into an altercation with Irad Ortiz Jr. after a roughly run race at Gulfstream. Ortiz was fined $1,000 and both riders were put on probation.
Lopez tops the Monmouth standings with 48 wins. Juarez is in eighth place with 10 wins.