03/18/2002 1:00AM

Suspension controversy


ALBANY, Calif. - A series of stiff suspensions for rough riding at Golden Gate Fields is causing concern among jockeys and their agents, and has caused two riders to plan to leave northern California.

Two of the top five riders at the meeting have been given suspensions that extend to the end of the meet, March 31. Apprentice Kevin Krigger, who was sidelined March 9 when he injured his elbow, has returned home to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, after being handed a 10-day suspension. Ben Russell has been given consecutive seven- and 10-day suspensions.

Krigger, third in the standings with 54 victories, and Russell, fifth with 41 wins, say they are planning to leave the northern California jockey colony because of the penalties.

Jockey agents and riders are concerned about a system under which jockeys receive three-day suspensions for their first foul, then five, seven, and 10 days for subsequent infractions. Although the system was established about five years ago, jockeys and agents said 10-day suspensions seem to be more common this meet.

"I've never seen suspensions like this," said agent Bomber Doutrich, who books mounts for Ron Warren Jr. and apprentice Francisco Duran. "You have to have days. Kids need to learn, but I'd only seen 10 [-day suspensions] when somebody intentionally shut someone off."

Steward John Herboveaux said, "This is the first time in my experience anyone got 10-day suspensions."

The stewards said that the old system of five- or seven-day suspensions was modified so that three-day suspensions could be given, as well as longer suspensions.

Former jockey Darrel McHargue, who is now a steward, says safety is the primary guideline in severity of suspensions.

He said, "There will be accidents if somebody is allowed to continue making mistakes. It's logical if an infraction comes on the heels of another infraction, the suspension most likely would get you more days."

Russell does not dispute that he deserved suspensions.

"I made mistakes riding," said Russell, who will ride at Emerald Downs. "Some things warrant three-day suspensions. Some more, but sitting down for 10 days doesn't necessarily help you."

Warren said one of his concerns about the approach is that it doesn't take into account the length of the meeting. He also worries because any 10-day suspension must be listed on a jockey's application for a license.

"If you went to any other state, they'd figure you did some really rough riding," he said.

Leading rider Russell Baze wonders about the value of 10-day suspensions, but he said, "If it got to the point they gave you 10 days, you're obviously not learning."