ELMONT, N.Y. - Kent Desormeaux has read and heard the criticism regarding his perceived lack of effort at the end of the Kentucky Derby aboard Paddy O'Prado, who finished third. The Hall of Fame jockey feels like it's unjustified.
"It's only from ignorance or lack of communication where you can make the accusation," Desormeaux said Saturday between races at Belmont Park.
The accusation made by some handicappers, media members, and even the horse's trainer, Dale Romans, is that Desormeaux did not ride Paddy O'Prado to the wire in the Derby, and he was caught for second by Ice Box in the final strides. Inside the sixteenth pole, Desormeaux stopped whipping Paddy O'Prado after he had hit him six times inside the eighth pole. Desormeaux then looks under his right shoulder and when he notices someone coming he throws a cross at the horse and vigorously hand rides him to the wire.
"He was faltering the last sixteenth," Desormeaux said. "There was no more forward progress. I had depleted his energy, so much so that he hit a hole in the track and it caused him to lose balance so he switched his leads. At that time it seemed like the more I spanked him, the more I'd slow him down because now he's paying attention to me, he's not fighting for the wire.
"It was my opinion that spanking him anymore was only slowing him down. So at that point I threw a cross and looked under my arm because I thought if he keeps slowing down like this I'm going to get caught, and I saw the horse coming so I started screaming and hollering at him, kissing, smooching, scootin' and bootin' and I wasn't about to spank him again and make him stop even more. I think I hit him one time too many and that was exactly the case.''
Desormeaux said he was fully cognizant that Ice Box was coming.
"Of course I saw him and of course I know it's a $2 million purse,'' Desormeaux said. "I mean I was cursing. The first thing I did was stand up and curse 'That was 20 Gs,' " referring to the $20,000 less a jockey makes for finishing third rather than second.
Desormeaux, a three-time Kentucky Derby-winning rider, said his biggest regret in this year's Derby came at the quarter pole when he had his momentum stopped while steadying to avoid a tiring Sidney's Candy. To that point, Desormeaux had followed Super Saver and Calvin Borel. While Desormeaux had his momentum stopped, Borel had his unimpeded as he snuck through on the inside of Noble's Promise. Desormeaux wound up going outside of Noble's Promise.
"I lost all my momentum and Paddy still picked it up again," Desormeaux said. "I thought at the three-sixteenths pole I could still win. He gave me that kind of resurgence.''
Romans, the trainer of Paddy O'Prado, said his initial reaction was that Desormeaux stopped riding too soon.
"I think Kent thought he had second wrapped up and didn't ride him as hard as he should have, but I've come to terms with it and I wasn't going to think about it anymore," Romans said.
Romans said "there never really was" any discussion between him and his owners of replacing Desormeaux for the Preakness.
"Tactically I thought he rode a great race," Romans said of the Derby. "He's a Hall of Fame jock. We're going to a place where he set a lot of records. It wouldn't make any sense out of anger to take him off."
John Veitch, the former trainer who is now Kentucky's chief state steward, told the Louisville Courier-Journal last week that Desormeaux's actions "really didn't alter the outcome" of the Derby and said there was no need for sanctions.
However, Veitch went on say that Desormeaux "has the reputation for doing that, but we looked at it and it was very marginal."
Desormeaux took exception with the perception that he doesn't ride out his horses.
"Perception is the rule, if it's perceived it's believed, but I can tell you as a matter of fact horses stop a quarter of a mile before I give up," Desormeaux said.
Paddy O'Prado, who won the Palm Beach Stakes on turf and finished second in the Blue Grass on synthetic, proved his ability to handle the dirt - or at least the slop - in the Derby. Thus Desormeaux heads into Saturday's Preakness with a lot of confidence.
"I didn't know how he was going to perform on the dirt," Desormeaux said. "I didn't know if I could sit back there and he would show me a kick. I honestly believe there's no horse he can't catch. If I set him up to catch a horse at the eighth pole he's going to catch it. ... I'm really excited for the action."