Story originally published April 14, 2013, on DanonymousRacing.com
It might’ve lacked the contextual drama of Afleet Alex stumbling, nearly falling and drawing off to win the 2005 Preakness, but 11th race at Pimlico on Saturday will certainly go down as one of the track’s most memorable.
“I’ve never ever seen something like that and I’ve never had something like that happen to me before,” said jockey, Xavier Perez, in an interview with DanonymousRacing.com on Sunday.
Perez was aboard Spicer Cub (Louis Quatorze – Carni’s Luck), who was going along on a comfortable and uncontested lead in the Pimlico finale, a $25,000 maiden claiming event.
Then, seemingly unprovoked, the 4-year-old colt bolted midway on the far turn. Perez tried to regain control of Spicer Cub, which he did, straightening him out and regaining the lead just in time for the horse to bolt yet again just past the sixteenth pole.
“We were cruising and he just spooked,” Perez said. “Then when I grabbed him, I didn’t think he would do it a second time but he just did it.”
This time, jockey and horse were headed straight into the path of the parked starting gate. Additionally, Perez had lost his irons.
“I was pretty scared,” said the native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Perez, 25, has been one of Maryland’s leading riders since switching his tack there in 2011.
Experience, instinct and, admittedly, a lack of options resulted in the rare (and perhaps, unprecedented) move Perez attempted next with Spicer Cub.
“I was going straight to the gate. In those few seconds, I realized there was a little bit of room between the outside fence and the gate,” said Perez.
“I just grabbed the mane really tight, stroked my reins, tied my legs and just hoped for the best.”
As Perez guided Spicer Cub through the narrow pathway between the gate and rail, they disappeared from the view of the track videographer for a full 13 seconds. Then, with less than a 100 yards to the finish line, Spicer Cub reappeared and began closing on the leaders nearing the wire.
In a very well timed bit of comic relief (relief, being the operative word), Pimlico track announcer, Dave Rodman, invoked the Al Micheals’ classic, “do you believe in miracles?”
What was Perez thinking as he neared the wire with a chance to win?
“When I got clear, I just kept riding. I was so frustrated and mad… but once I saw we were gaining and had a chance to win, I said ‘why not, let’s take a chance’,” said Perez, with a laugh.
As it turned out, Spicer Cub and a horse named Turbin, ridden by Forest Boyce, hit the wire together. Like any great horse racing story, the result of the race would come down to a photo finish.
“I thought I had the race,” Perez said. “I asked (Boyce), ‘did I get it?’ And she said, ‘yes, I think you got it.”
Moments later, the photo sign came down and the winner was Turbin. When the photo was revealed, Spicer Cub had lost by a mere nose.
“I actually wasn’t that disappointed,” said Perez. “I was just happy that nothing bad happened.”
Perez told DanonymousRacing.com that he would also be happy to continue riding Spicer Cub, who he’d been aboard in three previous races and countless morning works.
As for what got into the horse, Perez speculated Spicer Cub might’ve spooked from the glare of the sun reflecting off a puddle of water between the turf course and the main track.
“I tell you, I’ve had horses scared before. They’ve jumped shadows and I’ve lost my irons, but never in the six-years I’ve been riding have I ever experienced something like that,” Perez said.
Most people have never seen a race like it either. That could be why the race replay has gone viral (by horse racing video standards, at least). The replay posted on YouTube by the Maryland Jockey Club has received nearly 12,000 hits in just 18-hours.
“Everyone has been commenting on my fiance’s Facebook page about it,” said Perez.
“I’ve read some of the comments and they just say, ‘great job.’ A lot of people are congratulating me for just staying on the horse.”