With his cap set at a rakehell's defiant angle, Jacinto Vasquez said he has warned Angel Cordero never to do it again, especially in the Belmont Stakes Saturday. The little man is fed up. "If he pulls the same stunt he did in the Preakness, I will not leave the decision up to the stewards," Vasquez said. "Both horses might come back without riders."
The first time Cordero did him wrong, maybe 10 years ago, was all right. Vasquez could understand that. Race riding is race riding and you get away with what you can get away with. But the 100th time, 10 years later, is not all right. "It is stupid," Vasquez said.
He stood in the glorious dawn of a Belmont Park morning, the crisp air distinguished by the liniment and manure odors of the race track. In 36 hours, Vasquez would ride the filly, Genuine Risk, in the third leg of racing's Triple Crown. Winners of the Kentucky Derby, disputed losers of the Preakness, Genuine Risk and Vasquez will stand in the Belmont starting gate in the hole alongside their Preakness antagonists, Cordero and Codex.
"I am sick and tired of Cordero getting away with this," Vasquez said. He bit off the words. Cordero has been his mentor, his rival, his Latin buddy, even his inspiration in a cutthroat world of little brave men on big fast horses. Vasquez this morning called Cordero "one of the best athletes you will ever see."
And Vasquez said, "Cordero, it is a joke what he does. I talked to him about it yesterday." Vasquez that day put on an oversized boot, the size of a clown's flopping foot, and in mock anger gallumphed over to Cordero, saying, "You do that again, I kick you in the butt." This morning, Vasquez was not smiling.
"I congratulated Angel on getting with it -- again. But now I lose too many times because of him. Races neither one of us win, I lose because of Cordero doing something to me. And the stewards always hold him blameless. It is a stupid joke, what he does. Stupidity."
The Stewards at Pimlico let Cordero get away with stealing the Preakness. Then the august members of the Maryland Racing Commission certified the theft as legitimate work, which came as no surprise in a state where politicians and bandits are occasionally the same people.
It is debatable as to how much bumping, if any, went on when Genuine Risk and Codex turned for home in the Preakness. If it were overstatement to say they collided with enough force to knock over Franco Harris, it seems too little to say an egg could have survived intact between them.
We can argue about Cordero's whip. Did he, as Vasquez testified repeatedly, hit Genuine Risk in the face? The films don't show the whip clearly enough to tell, and Cordero insists he hit only his horse. Genuine Risk never flinched, as a horse would if struck on the head, but Cordero certainly had the whip out in front far enough to wave it in Risk's face.
But the third count of the indictment -- the charge that Cordero intimidated Genuine Risk by taking Codex unnecessarily wide on the turn, forcing Risk off the path to which she was entitled -- is not debatable. Only weak-kneed incompetents would rule that Cordero did no wrong.
"Not one person with eyes in the country say Cordero didn't foul me," Vasquez said. He said the race films show Codex taking Genuine Risk from a path three horses off the rail to a path 10 horses wide. While the act of intimidation is grounds for disqualification whether or not it was intentional, Cordero did it on purpose, Vasquez said, you can see the evidence in the films.
"Look at the left rein," he said. "It's just hanging there, loose inside the horse. If Cordero wants to turn his horse, he has to pull that left rein tight. But he made no effort. He looked back, saw me coming and took me out.
"It was a dangerous thing he did. My filly could have gone down, she could have crossed up her feet. One more step over, the colt steps on me. We could have both gone down.
"Angel and me have laughed many times about what he gets away with. I've done all those things, too. But I'd get caught and I'd get punished Cordero, no."
So Vasquez said this morning he will take matters into his own hands.
How? If he says the horse might come back without riders, does that mean he will leap from his horse, a la John Wayne, and wrestle the bad guy to the ground?
"I refuse to answer that question," Vasquez said, smiling tightly before adding, "I don't say I will pull him down, but I have ways of not letting him get away with that same stunt again. I just want Cordero to ride his own horse, not two or three horses. Here in New York, I don't think he can get away with what he did at the Preakness. The stewards will not let him."
Steam from his bath water rose off the black body of Codes, finished with his last workout before the Belmont. Angelo Cordero, the millionaire jockey, held the horse's shank, occasionally tugging it as he talked to the animal. "No . . . No . . . Behave, champ. Be a man . . . Kiss & Kiss?"
The horse kissed the little man.
As hot as Vasquez is, Cordero is cool.
What did he think of the filly being in the starting gate right next to his colt?" "I hope they don't fall in love," he said at breakfast with the press the other day. "If they do, I hope they name the colt they call him controversy."
Speaking of controversy, what does Cordero think of Vasquez popping off? "All I have to say is I hope the best horse wins." Pause. "Again," with a smile.
Vasquez said both horses may come back without riders if there is a rerun of the Preakness. Worried? "I don't worry about that," Cordero said. "I am concentrating on a horse race. This is not a boxing match."
Cordero had an idea. "Maybe we could go to Madison Square Garden. For $50,000, I will put on the gloves with Jacinto."
Of all the Preakness possibilities, the most obvious is that Cordero took his horse wide on purpose. If you can't see the bump and can't see the whip, you can see Cordero looking back over his shoulder, not once but twice, to see where Genuine Risk is. Some people said these looks told Cordero that Risk was moving well and so he intimidated her.
How about it, Angel? "Nothing in the rules that say you ain't supposed to look back," Cordero said.
Nothing in the rules, either, that said Jesse James couldn't check the train schedules.