Fistfight Erupts and a Belmont Pick Emerges
(Bloomberg) -- Minutes after Irad Ortiz crossed the finish line first atop a big chestnut colt named Known Agenda one Friday this February in South Florida, he walked over to his fellow rider Paco Lopez, who was leisurely sitting on a chair just off the track, and hit him square in the jaw with a roundhouse hook.
Now, Lopez, it should be known, has long had a reputation in the East Coast jockey colony for being something of a yahoo -- a reckless rider willing to take risks that endanger his life and those of the jockeys and horses around him.
And when he subtly, and dangerously, floated his tiring horse out toward Known Agenda on this day -- in a failed attempt to initiate contact that the racing stewards would blame on Known Agenda -- Ortiz snapped. The flurry of blows sent Lopez tumbling to the ground.
Clearly, the eruption was a manifestation in part of years of pent-up frustration with Lopez. But there seemed to be something else at play here: Known Agenda won that day by a dazzling 11 lengths and he was quickly shaping up as Ortiz’s big horse of 2021, the one that might get him that elusive first Kentucky Derby trophy. Lopez was messing with the colt and it wasn’t appreciated.
The race, and the fisticuffs, put the horse on my radar -- he’s a relentless grinder with that low-to-the-ground running style that marks a good one -- and I flirted with picking him in the Derby.
Fortunately, I did not. He was slow into stride, ran into repeated traffic problems and wound up a disappointing ninth. (My Derby pick, Rock Your World, to be clear, was even worse, staggering home 17th after he got slammed into at the start.)
The mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes, the longest race any of these horses will ever run in, will suit Known Agenda better.
The colt’s lack of tactical speed won’t be the liability it was in the crowded Derby field. And the cognoscenti are raving about how he’s training right now. At odds of 6-1 or so, the price will be right tomorrow, too. I’ll bet him to win and, for kicks, will throw him into exactas with my failed Derby pick.
As for Ortiz, he’ll have to watch the race just like the rest of us. On Thursday, he went down in an ugly spill at Belmont Park that will leave him out of action for a couple of weeks.
(David Papadopoulos, a senior editor at Bloomberg News, is a voter in the thoroughbred industry’s Eclipse Awards. He has been publishing his Triple Crown picks for the past decade. He used to publicly disclose the ROI on his picks but then those returns started to slip markedly and he lost interest in doing that. He swears, though, that anyone who has followed his betting advice is still up money.)
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