08/12/2008 11:00PM

Lopez gets controversial 30-day suspension


MIAMI - Paco Lopez is the leading rider at Calder and among the top contenders for an Eclipse Award as the outstanding apprentice jockey in 2008. But Lopez's chances of attaining those goals were put in jeopardy earlier this month when he received a 30-day suspension from the Calder stewards for his ride aboard Awesome Alexandra in the Ema Bovary Stakes here on Aug. 3.

Awesome Alexandra won the Ema Bovary, the fifth victory in a row for the former claimer since she and Lopez first teamed up earlier this summer. The stewards posted no inquiry, nor was there an objection by any other rider after the race. But the following day, Lopez was handed a 30-day suspension for what the stewards deemed to be an "extremely careless ride in the vicinity of the half-mile pole by needlessly allowing his mount to bear in forcing the jockey to his inside to take precarious, defensive action to prevent going over the rail or clip heels."

The ruling came on the heels of a five-day suspension Lopez had received the previous week. Earlier in the meeting, Lopez sat out 11 racing days after his appeals of three prior suspensions were denied by the State Wagering Board. Despite serving those suspensions, Lopez held a 90-74 advantage over defending Tropical-at-Calder riding champ Manoel Cruz entering Thursday, and he has won 124 races overall in 2008 through Tuesday.

According to the stewards, the severity of their latest ruling against the young apprentice was the result of repeated warnings to Lopez that continued careless riding would result in stiffer penalties for future infractions.

"All of us have set him down and told him not to get himself in these positions," said state steward and former jockey Rene Riera Jr. "That he was going to get himself or someone else hurt. In this particular incident, he looked over at the other rider on two occasions and still came over on the horse on the far turn."

Riera also said that despite holding Lopez to blame for Awesome Alexandra's actions in the Ema Bovary, the stewards did not disqualify the winner since in their judgment the incident did not affect the outcome of the race.

"We did not want to penalize the owner and trainer or the bettors who wagered on Awesome Alexandra for Lopez's careless actions," said Riera.

Lopez's agent, Cory Moran, said he had already hired a lawyer to contest the five-day suspension given to his rider before the Ema Bovary. Both rulings are under appeal. According to Moran, Lopez will lose his five-pound apprentice allowance and become a journeyman in early September.

"We feel that neither of the last two suspensions were warranted," said Moran. "And that the penalty for the most recent incident was much too harsh. Especially considering there was no inquiry and no objection from the rider allegedly fouled in the race."

Marty Wolfson, the trainer of Awesome Alexandra, said he had no idea Lopez had been suspended for his ride in the Ema Bovary when informed about the stewards' ruling earlier this week.

"I was completely surprised to hear he was suspended for that particular race," said Wolfson. "I was in New Jersey running several horses at Monmouth Park that afternoon, watched the race on television, and never saw him do anything wrong on her."

Wolfson said he has been impressed with the progress Lopez has made since coming to south Florida this year.

"He's improved a lot over the past several months; he's a lot more patient than when he first arrived," said Wolfson. "He reminds me a lot of Eddie Castro when he had the bug down here."

Bill White, a perennial leading trainer at Calder for the past decade and a major supporter of Lopez, said he was shocked when he learned of the severity of the suspension.

"There haven't been many bright spots during this meet, but Paco has been one of them," said White. "He won 30 races at Gulfstream, then came to Calder and is starting to run away with the riding title. Nobody saw that coming.

"He is a very aggressive rider, and some of the minor suspensions he's received have been justified," he added. "He needs to learn not to take so many risks, and the stewards needed to get his attention. But I watched the tape of the Ema Bovary and it seems the penalty far exceeds the infraction in this particular case. In my opinion, it was a bit heavy-handed and unfair and could hamper his chances to win both the Calder title and possibly even an Eclipse Award."

You Luckie Mann heads stallion stakes Saturday

Wolfson will send out likely favorite You Luckie Mann with jockey Jermaine Bridgmohan aboard in Saturday's $100,000 Dr. Fager division of the Florida Stallion Stakes. The Dr. Fager drew a full field of 12 colts and geldings and shares top billing on the card with its filly counterpart, the $100,000 Desert Vixen. A field of 10 - led by La Chica Sensual, Tiger's Song, and Trippi's Greatstar - will go in the Desert Vixen.

Both the Dr. Fager and Desert Vixen will be run at six furlongs, and are the opening legs of two three-race series that conclude at the rich Festival of the Sun program on Oct. 18.