Racing stewards yesterday officially suspended jockey Rafael Arroyave 60 days for insufficient efforts in two races last month at Laurel.

Jockeys rarely have been censured for such infractions at Maryland's thoroughbred race tracks; Arroyave's suspension is believed one of the most severe for a ride deemed passive.

The stewards -- Clinton Pitts Jr., Jean W. Chalk, John J. Heisler and William J. Passmore -- barred Arroyave, 35, from any of the state's race tracks through April 10 "for not putting forth a sufficient effort" in Laurel's 11th race on Jan. 2 and its third race Jan. 28.

"I thought the ruling was a little harsh," said Arroyave.

In both of the questioned races, he was astride the 3-year-old gelding De Douceur. "The horse was known to be a rogue. He's just a bad horse. He props and bolts when he works, so {trainer John Salzman} couldn't work him very much. He had to race him into shape.

"I was a little leery of him, and I should have taken it into my hands and told Mr. Salzman I didn't want to ride the horse. But he's the only man I'm riding for, basically, and I didn't want to get into a predicament with him by telling him I was afraid of the horse. He might have started looking for another rider."

Salzman, who trains De Douceur for owner Guy B. Snowden, said, "The kid, in my opinion, did nothing more than I told him to do. Beyond that, I don't have any comment."

After racing three times against top-rated maidens last summer, De Douceur was laid off five months, returning to Laurel in a six-furlong, $18,500 claiming race for maidens Jan. 2. At 15-to-1 odds, De Douceur broke alertly under Arroyave, but finished last in a field of seven, beaten by 15 3/4 lengths.

"My instructions were to be careful of the horse," Arroyave said, "and, if he got tired, not to abuse him. He was fresh, and he broke real well. It seemed like he wanted to get the lead, but I didn't want him there, so I took him back two, three, four lengths, and that was it.

"I know I wasn't doing too much with him, but I didn't want anything to happen to me or any of the other riders. I just wanted to get around the track as best I could. I didn't want to get hurt, especially on a cheap horse."

Arroyave was not censured for his subsequent ride aboard De Douceur -- in a sprint against $11,500 maiden claimers Jan. 17 -- when the horse, at 14 to 1, broke awkwardly and finished eighth out of 10, 5 1/4 lengths off the winner.

Salzman then dropped De Douceur in class for the third straight time, into a sprint for $8,500 maiden claimers Jan. 28, and De Douceur (9 to 1) finished ninth, 14 1/4 lengths behind.

Then came the form reversal: on Feb. 4, in a 1 1/16-mile race for $8,500 maidens -- his first race in the mud, first beyond 6 1/2 furlongs and first under jockey Donald Miller Jr. (Arroyave was serving a suspension) -- De Douceur led virtually the entire way in a one-length victory. Listed at 15 to 1 in the Laurel program, De Douceur went off at 4 to 1 and paid $10.

"Basically, the horse got fit, went long, got on the fast rail and won," Arroyave said. "I think the weakness of the field plus the track bias helped his odds go down." De Douceur was on the rail, and horses breaking from post position 1 won five races that day.

After that race, stewards checked reports that De Douceur might have been inordinately restrained in at least two of his recent races and began investigating. They also heard testimony from Salzman and Arroyave.

"If I'd known all this was going to happen, I might have done things differently," Arroyave said. "I've been riding 14 years, and nothing like this has ever happened. I don't know if {the stewards} wanted to make an example out of me, but I do know that it doesn't look good.

"Hopefully, it will all blow over. If you're a good rider, people tend to forget about things like this."