by Frank Vespe
Rodney Dangerfield would have loved it.
“I went to a fight the other night,” the late comedian famously quipped, “and a hockey game broke out.”
Replace “hockey game” with “horse race,” and you get the picture, at least this week.
On Monday, an enraged — and now, reportedly, apologetic — trainer Juan Vazquez took a swing — and then a few more swings — at rider Trevor McCarthy after the fourth race at Delaware Park.
Thusly inspired, on Thursday at Churchill Downs, Ed Musselman, the publisher of the Indian Charlie newsletter often seen on racetrack backsides, took a swing at trainer Dale Romans at Churchill Downs.
Romans, who allowed to the Paulick Report (here) that the fight wasn’t his “first rodeo,” swung back and reportedly landed the decisive blow.
Not, however, before his pants — too large because of his recent weight loss — fell down, and he tripped over them. And then his partner, the diminutive Tammy Fox, jumped in.
Two big guys — one pantsless — rolling around on the ground, with a much smaller woman getting in a few licks. Just another day at the racetrack.
Of course, everyone has their reasons. Vazquez may have been angry because McCarthy’s first race mount had, en route to victory, bumped a horse trained by Vazquez. Romans confronted Musselman, whose most recent Indian Charlie had labeled the trainer a “classless fat-ass,” and Musselman, apparently forgetting the mightiness of the pen vis a vis the sword, took a swing.
For Vazquez and Musselman, the situation may get worse before it gets better.
Vazquez has already received a 90-day suspension and $2500 fine (the max the stewards can impose) and been ordered to attend anger management counseling.
He is expected to appeal, but his record — which includes a prior suspension for being the aggressor in a fight and reportedly a verbal altercation with a Delaware racing official — may not inspire the Racing Commission to clemency.
In fact, Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission executive director John Wayne, who said he supported the stewards’ decision, pointed to the anger management counseling as perhaps the most important component of the ruling.
“It’s not throwing somebody away,” Wayne said. “He’s fortunate to have the avenue to go through an anger management class.”
In Louisville, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is conducting a review of the Thursday brawl. In the meantime, Churchill Downs has banned Musselman from its grounds while the investigation is ongoing.
Meanwhile, neither McCarthy nor Romans — neither of which has, at this point, been disciplined in any way for the melees — has missed a beat.
McCarthy was treated on the grounds, didn’t miss a mount, and bounced back to take Wednesday’s featured Stanton Stakes aboard Joint Custody.
As for Romans, his first Churchill runner on Thursday following his waltz with Musselman was a two year-old firster named Rod Macleod. After steadying on the turn, the Roman Ruler colt shifted outside and swept by the leaders to victory.
It turns out that — as we always heard — living well is the best revenge.
Dangerfield would have appreciated that, too.
(Featured image, of Stanton Stakes winner Joint Custody in an earlier race, by Laurie Asseo.)