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Animal Kingdom's jockey cries foul

ELMONT, N.Y. — Of all the things Graham Motion has on his mental to-do list, reliving what transpired in the 143rd Belmont Stakes ranks somewhere near the bottom.

"At some point I'm going to have to bring myself to watch it," the 47-year-old trainer said Sunday when asked if he'd seen a replay of the race.

Given what happened to Motion's Kentucky Derby-winning charge Animal Kingdom in the final leg of the Triple Crown, it's safe to say no one associated with the chestnut colt is going to get over the result anytime soon.

The fallout from Animal Kingdom's sixth-place effort in the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes continued Sunday as his jockey, John Velazquez, pointed the finger at fellow rider Rajiv Maragh for causing the incident that compromised his mount.

Sent off as the 5-to-2 favorite, Animal Kingdom lost all chance at victory a few strides after breaking from post No. 9 when he was bumped by Mucho Macho Man out of post No 10 after the latter bumped by long-shot Isn't He Perfect from his outside.

Animal Kingdom stumbled badly and nearly unseated Velazquez, who ended up losing his left stirrup in the incident.

Though Velazquez's athleticism helped him stay in the saddle, it took him the better part of a sixteenth of a mile to regain his stirrup, leaving him and his mount well behind the rest of the field.

When reached by phone Sunday, Velazquez said he thought Maragh — who was riding Isn't He Perfect — deliberately made a sharp move to his left into Mucho Macho Man, causing the chain reaction.

Maragh had ridden Mucho Macho Man in the colt's last four starts, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but was replaced aboard the son of Macho Uno by Ramon Dominguez for the Belmont.

"That's what I think and that's why I was so frustrated," Velazquez said. "Things happen right at the start but this happened three to four jumps after. Normally that doesn't happen unless a horse makes a left or a right.

"You shouldn't be playing something like that in a race. It's just stupidity and shouldn't happen."

Maragh contacted Daily Racing Form reporter David Grening on Sunday and denied any notion the incident was malicious.

"At no time did I premeditate interfering with anyone," Maragh said. "I've always had the greatest respect for Johnny Velazquez and Ramon Dominguez. I appreciate what the owners and trainer of Mucho Macho Man have done for me. I have nothing vengeful against them.

"It was a very slight inward move, it wasn't something exaggerated," Maragh continued. "Unintentional things happen in racing; this was one of them."

Velazquez said he spoke briefly with Maragh after the Belmont and that the three riders involved have been contacted by the stewards to view film of the race on Wednesday.

"(Maragh) didn't say much other than 'I didn't ride the horse,' things like that, but I was so mad I was like, 'Let me see the replay again before I actually get after someone,' " Velazquez said. "I was going to lose it so I waited for the replays and they never showed the head-on shot. So I walked out of there and tried to put it behind me."

Barry Irwin, CEO of the Team Valor International syndicate which owns Animal Kingdom, doesn't blame Maragh but rather the connections of Isn't He Perfect for having the horse — who has not hit the board in five graded stakes races and finished last Saturday — in the race to begin with.

"That horse was an orangutan," Irwin said Sunday. "He was wild in the Preakness (where he finished ninth). He was wild in this thing. I don't know why those guys would even want to run a horse like that in that company.

"I don't believe (it was intentional). I heard all that stuff but I don't think Rajiv is that kind of guy. That horse is not very tractable and he's unruly."

One thing everyone in Animal Kingdom's camp agreed upon was how much this latest experience hurt.

The past five weeks have seen them go from the high of his upset Derby triumph to the heartache of his runner-up outing in the Preakness. All that did nothing to prepare them for what they felt Saturday evening.

"I didn't watch the race for about 15 to 20 seconds after the incident. I just turned my head away," Irwin said. "In the Preakness I was kind of emotionally spent because I think it's a race he probably could have won with a little more luck. In this race just to get robbed of even having a chance, it's pretty depressing."

Motion said Animal Kingdom, aside from some stiffness, appeared uninjured Sunday morning. Considering the strain his body endured, though, Irwin said he will likely have a nuclear scan done on the colt.

If there was any solace to be taken from Animal Kingdom's Belmont outing, it's that the son of Leroidesanimaux persevered to get into contention around the final turn.

"To be honest, with the way things were Johnny might as well have pulled him up — and I'm not saying he should have," Motion said. "In a different circumstance, he might have just hacked him around because there was no chance he was going to be able to do anything realistically after that situation. But in a Triple Crown race obviously it would not have been a fair thing to do. And I thought the horse ran pretty credibly to make the move he did. It was just asking way too much at that point."

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