Jockey Carlos Montalvo, who used his whip when aboard M I Six (Mission Impazible) in a July 11 race at Monmouth, was handed a five-day suspension and a $500 fine Friday by Monmouth stewards for violating the controversial regulations that largely ban the use of the crop in all thoroughbred races in New Jersey. Montalvo was suspended despite his claims that he felt it was necessary to go to the whip because of safety concerns aboard a horse who was bearing out on the far turn. New Jersey's regulations allow for a jockey to use the whip for corrective measures when he or she feels the crop is needed for safety related issues.
The stewards apparently did not accept Montalvo's claim that his safety was in danger. The New Jersey Racing Commission does not permit its stewards to speak to the media and the commission itself does not normally returns calls from the press. As of the deadline for this story, the racing commission had not returned a call from the TDN seeking comment and clarification on the Montalvo situation.
Montalvo's suspension is set to begin August 24, but his attorney, Drew Mollica, said the jockey plans on filing an appeal.
In a related development, it has been learned that the stewards issued another five-day suspension for use of the whip when setting down jockey Carlos E. Lopez for his ride in another July 11 race. Lopez was clearly using his whip to urge his horse and will not be contesting the ruling. Lopez was suspended on July 18.
To date, there has also not been a word on the status of jockey Flavien Prat, who could be facing a suspension after he was disqualified aboard Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow) after crossing the wire first in the GI Haskell S. Hot Rod Charlie may have come over in the stretch, causing Midnight Bourbon (Tiznow) to clip heels with his rival. Aboard Midnight Bourbon, jockey Paco Lopez was thrown to the track but was not seriously injured.
Despite the new whipping rules, the first six weeks of the meet were largely uneventful and there were no incidents that led to the stewards suspending a rider. That all changed in the first race on July 11 when Montalvo clearly struck his mount three times with a right-handed whip. It also appeared that the horse, described as a “terribly mannered horse” by Montalvo's agent, Doug Hatten, was attempting to get out. M I Six eventually straightened himself out and went on to win the races at odds of 28-1.
Shortly after learning of the ruling, Mollica lashed out at the New Jersey Racing Commission.
'This suspension is contrary to everything that this rule is supposed to stand for,” he said. “Montalvo acted properly. He used the whip in an emergency situation to protect himself, his fellow riders, the horse and the betting public. His actions were exactly what this rule was created for. To now sanction him shows the hypocrisy of this racing commission and we intend to appeal this to a fair judge who understands that his use of the crop was proper in an emergency situation. The proof is in the pudding. Look at what happened in the Haskell when the jockey did not use his whip to protect the safety of another rider. A jockey in an emergency situation has to be given the benefit of the doubt. His use of the whip prevented a catastrophe and to now try to suspend him is not only hypocritical it is dangerous.”
Mollica said the appeal will be go to an administrative law judge.
In his first ride ever at Monmouth, Lopez was aboard Venezuelan Talent (Outwork) in a maiden special weight race. He had a narrow lead in the stretch before being confronted on the outside by the eventual winner Emirates Affair (Handsome Mike). Lopez went to the whip in an obvious attempt to encourage the horse. He finished second behind Emirates Affair.
Lopez's agent, Kevin Witte, said that his rider accepted responsibility for his actions, but added that his unfamiliarity with Monmouth and the rules were factors.
“It was the first time the rider rode there and he does not speak any English,” Witte said. “He was told in Spanish by another rider not to hit the horse. He understood but he carried the stick to be safe. Coming down to the wire he was in front, he felt pressure from the outside and he reacted. Jockeys have a habit of riding the way they ride. He understood the rule, but they were coming down to the wire, he was in front, felt pressure from the outside. It was just a mistake. He was used to whipping coming to the wire. He came back and said, 'I messed up. I apologize.'”
Lopez's suspension will begin July 24 and run through July 29.
Without access to the stewards or the racing commission, the TDN was not able to determine whether or not Venezuelan Talent and M I Six were disqualified from purse money because of the whipping.