Friday, I wrote this: In West Virginia, the stewards at Mountaineer say jockey Jose Leon “was caught striking a horse across the face” during morning training Sep 10. What did they think was an appropriate penalty for, again, “striking a horse across the face”? $100 fine, no suspension.
Now, more details have emerged.
Facing criticism for the paltry penalty, Mountaineer’s chief steward, Jim O’Brien, told the Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN): “He was wrong, but I guess he let his anger get the best of him, and he hit the horse in the face. The horse was acting up after he got off, which is no excuse, but that’s what happened.”
Leon, for his part, denies he hit the horse after dismounting, but, says the TDN, “did admit that he was ‘frustrated,’ and that he struck the horse ‘in the mouth’ earlier…while still on horseback in an effort to keep it from careening through the outside fence….” Leon: “The horse is the type of horse that is a crazy horse.”
One of the witnesses who reported the incident is owner/trainer/rider Justin Jensen. While Jensen agrees that Leon was within his rights to discipline a wayward horse – “You’re in a dangerous spot. He reached out and smacked the horse in the face. Not the end of the world, okay?” – it’s what happened after that he found problematic:
“They finish the workout, and I’m galloping right behind him. … All he had to do was turn that horse around and jog it home. And because he’s got a bad attitude, and he always has a temper, he jumped off that horse…grabbed the right rein with his left hand, and he reached back with his right hand, and he whipped that horse in the face. I don’t know if he hit him in the eye, but he whipped him hard across the face.”
Jensen says plenty of others witnessed the abuse but chose not to come forward, intimidated, he implied, by the Mountaineer ecosystem. Jensen, by the way, was partly motivated by indignation: Just last year he himself was fined $400 for using an expletive with a track superintendent. Priorities, right?