ELMONT, N.Y. -- John Velazquez said he believes that jockey Rajiv Maragh was careless in his handling of Isn't He Perfect shortly after the start of Saturday's Belmont Stakes, causing Velazquez to nearly become unseated from Animal Kingdom in the early stages of the race. Animal Kingdom, the Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up eventually finished sixth as the 5-2 favorite in the Belmont.
Further, Velazquez said he thinks Maragh may have deliberately taken a left-hand turn aboard Isn't He Perfect to impede Mucho Macho Man, a horse Maragh had been taken off after riding him in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Mucho Macho Man, under Ramon Dominguez, broke from post 10, in between Animal Kingdom and Isn't He Perfect.
"That's what I think,'' Velazquez said in a conference call with reporters Sunday morning. "That's why I was so frustrated. Things happen in a race. If it would have happened right out of the gate I wouldn't have been so frustrated because things happen right from the start. But this happened three or four jumps after the start so that's why I was frustrated. It shouldn't happen. He should not be playing something like that in a race like this. It's stupidity and it shouldn't happen.''
Velazquez and Animal Kingdom got bumped by Mucho Macho Man several strides out of the gate and he then clipped heels with Monzon. Velazquez got catapulted forward and his left foot came out of the irons. It took about a sixteenth of a mile for Velazquez to get his foot back in the stirrups. Animal Kingdom was last going into the first turn and Velazquez knew his chances to win were eliminated.
Velazquez said he believes Maragh was careless for allowing Isn't He Perfect to come over a few paths and interfering with other horses.
"I thought so,'' he said. "How the heck did that horse end up on top of me four or five jumps after the break? Normally, that doesn't happen unless a horse make a left or a right, whatever it may be.''
Maragh said he did not intentionally try to go after Mucho Macho Man or any of the participants in the race.
"At no time did I premeditate interfering with anyone,'' Maragh said. "I've always had the greatest respect for Johnny Velazquez and Ramon Dominguez. I appreciate what the owners and trainer of Mucho Macho Man have done for me. They let me ride the horse in the Risen Star and gave me the opportunity to ride him in the Kentucky Derby. I have nothing vengeful against them. I talked to the owners prior to the race and we wished each other good luck.
"It's definitely an unfortunate incident,'' Maragh added. "For Johnny Velazquez to say I premeditated that and I was looking out for him ... Was [Javier] Castellano trying to interfere with [Calvin] Borel in the Breeders' Cup? Was Dominguez looking for Jeremy Rose on Afleet Alex [in 2005 Preakness], thinking about doing something intentional to him? I don't think so. It's part of the race and things happen. It was a very slight inward move, it wasn't something exaggerated. Unintentional things happen in racing; this was one of them.''
Velazquez said he complained to the Belmont stewards about Maragh's handling of Isn't He Perfect. The stewards will have all the riders in Wednesday to go over films of the start of the race.
Velazquez said he approached Maragh in the jockeys' room, but that Maragh said he thought Velazquez's issue was with the rider of Mucho Macho Man, Dominguez, and not him. Velazquez said he then went in search of a head-on replay, which he never got to see.
"I waited for the replays and they never showed the head-on shot,'' Velazquez said. "I went into the shower and cleaned up and walked out of there without seeing it and tried to put it behind me.''
Graham Motion, the trainer of Animal Kingdom, said given the disastrous start that if it wasn't a Triple Crown race, he would have had no issue if Velazquez had pulled Animal Kingdom up and just galloped him around the track.
"After I put my foot back in the irons, I thought maybe if he could finish third or fourth, run a great race,'' Velazquez said. "I did like the horse; I thought he was going to be really tough to beat so I wanted to give him the opportunity to finish somewhere so it wouldn't be a total disgrace. And he did run great.''