Top jockey stands atop 'doofus' list

December 01, 1993|By Vic Ziegel | Vic Ziegel,New York Daily News

Doofus. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary, second edition, 2,478 pages, and that's not counting the maps in the back, defines "doofus" as a foolish and inept person.

Well, yeah, but we can do better than that. Doofus is more than foolish and inept. Not worse, not better, but definitely more. Non-alcoholic beer is foolish. The '62 Mets were inept. Ray Handley wasn't inept (that would have been an improvement).

The definition of "doofus" is pitcher David Cone screaming at the first-base ump while two runs score. Two years ago, when bowler Del Ballard Jr. needed to knock down seven pins with his last ball to win a tournament and $30,000, he threw the ball in the gutter. He won that year's doofus award.

Last year was a slow one for the doofus crowd, but 1993 has been a beauty. Leon Lett's decision Thanksgiving Day to touch a bouncing football cost the Dallas Cowboys a game. This came 10 months after the same Dallas doofus, walking home a touchdown in the Super Bowl, let himself get caught from behind, the ball taken away.

There was Michigan's Chris Webber calling a timeout he didn't have in the NCAA Final. Heavyweight Ray Mercer trying to bribe his opponent -- in the middle of a fight. Allegedly, of course.

And now there's a new contender for doofus of the year. You probably missed it because it happened Sunday afternoon on a racetrack in Fuchu, Japan. No local TV, no film at 11. The race was the richest in the world, the $3.6 million Japan Cup, a mile and a half on the turf, $1.6 million to the winner. The on-track attendance was 179,619 (a good month for Aqueduct), and $323 million was bet on the Cup. Serious race, right?

One hundred meters from the finish line, 328 feet, one-sixteenth of a mile, California jockey Kent Desormeaux thought the race was over. Thought the red-and-white pole on the rail was the wire. Thought he had finished second on Kotashaan, the favorite, who was a diminishing length behind the leader. So Desormeaux (it rhymes with oh, no) began standing up in the irons, easing his horse. Big mistake.

By the time the jockey realized what had happened and went back to work, all he had a chance to win was this year's doofus award.

Kotashaan, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf three weeks ago, went into the weekend race as one of the favorites for Horse of the Year. A victory in Japan certainly would have put him over the top. Desormeaux's doofusry will hurt. Second place was worth $635,000. That isn't a bad piece of change for under 2 1/2 minutes of riding, with a nap thrown in at the end. But it isn't first place or $1.6 million or Horse of the Year.

And it wasn't as if Desormeaux could claim unfamiliarity with the finish line. He rode in an earlier race on the card, the third race, and misjudged the finish line in that one, too. By the time the Japan Cup came around, he should have known where the line was or wasn't. (The fine for easing a horse before the finish is 50,000 yen. Which is about $460. And the stewards, sweethearts all, excused Desormeaux the first time. Just don't do it in the big race, they said. Don't do it, Desormeaux said. Don't do it, don't do it ... .)

Once the darling of the Pimlico-Laurel circuit, he might be the best jockey in the country, only 23 years old and already the winner of more than 2,500 races. He is Kotashaan's regular rider. He's still in Japan to compete in a jockey challenge series this week. The horse's trainer, Richard Mandella, came home Monday. He was standing right there, 100 meters from the finish, when Desormeaux became Dedoofus.

Kotashaan, Mandella said, "was sitting real nice in the first turn when some horse dropped in front of him and clipped his heels." The horse's rear foot hit the back of the left front ankle, and he needed three stitches after the race was over. As the 16-horse field came into the stretch, Kotashaan began to close the distance between himself and the leader, Legacy World.

"He closed five or six lengths to be within a half-length," Mandella said. "Hard not to imagine him getting the last half-length. I thought we had him. Everybody around me thought so, too."

That's when Desormeaux decided he saw the finish line. "He didn't stand up for a second and get back down," the trainer said. "He half-pulled up."

Bill Shoemaker did the same thing in the 1957 Kentucky Derby and cost Gallant Man the roses. A doofus golden oldie. This year, it's Leon Lett, Chris Webber, Ray Mercer and now Kent Desormeaux. And we still have all of December. This is clearly the golden age of doofus.

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