At this moment she is, by almost a 2-to-1 margin, the winningest rider at Longacres, an advantage she will hold the entire racing season, making her the first woman ever to win a riding championship at a major thoroughbred meeting. The people who have seen her are already saying she is the most aggressive and talented woman riding anywhere. Which you should not confuse with being sweet to Puerto Ricans.
Mercado rides her out toward the middle of the track, then moves to leave her there. His horse puts its head in front of Aragon's horse, and then half of its neck. Whipping righthanded, Aragon urges her horse close to even again, then leans over and begins to whip Mercado.
She hits him twice with looping shots across his legs. Mercado turns in his saddle, holding his own whip in the air, but by then, Aragon's horse—no doubt delighted by this new trend in whipping—has fallen off the pace and never gets close to Mercado again. Aragon finishes the race sixth, files a protest that is disallowed and then leaves the track without riding her last six scheduled mounts.
On Wednesday, the next day of racing at Longacres, a track official enters the jockeys' room at about 3:30 and hands Aragon a message from the stewards. The note says they want to see her. "I knew I was in trouble before he came in," she will say later. "I didn't think they were going to forget it happened."
Television cameras and reporters follow her to the stewards' room and are waiting when she comes out. Aragon is a celebrity in Seattle. She stands in front of the cameras, looking calm, and says she has been "unprofessional" and feels she has "a public duty to apologize in public" to Victor Mercado and the owners and trainers of all the horses she was supposed to have ridden on Sunday. You have to go all the way back to Willie Mays's warning children not to play with blasting caps to match the feeling in this announcement.
"The way I look at it," she said later, "I took a three-week vacation." The 4'11" Aragon was sitting on a couch when she said that—her feet hanging several inches off the floor—in the living room of a house owned by her fiancé, Joe Steiner. It was the first week of the suspension. Steiner was the second-leading jockey at Longacres, but even with 93 wins, he finished the year almost that many again behind her.
The living room was on the second floor, and Steiner came through holding a hammer, apparently on his way to do some home repairs. He jumped from the floor to a table to the sill of an open window and then out the window. I have no idea why. Just don't ever believe jockeys are like everybody else.
"This guy bothers me a lot," Aragon said of Mercado. "He's sneaky, and he's always messing with my horses—little things to spook them or get them off stride. He's never called me dirty names—some of them do that—but he's just sneaky. I don't like him. He bumped me on purpose, rode me out into the middle of the track. That's dangerous. It doesn't take much to ruin a horse. So I got upset and hit him. Then I realized what I'd done, and I got more upset than I was, and I hit him again. Then I left the track and made it that much worse."
The three-week suspension was Aragon's longest at Longacres last year. She had two others, each a week long, for careless riding. There were also some fines. In August she and a jockey named Marty Wentz got into a whip fight during a race, and it cost them $400 each. "He swung at me and missed, I got him twice," she said. "Now there's somebody I don't get along with."
Then there was a brief fistfight with a jockey named Frank Best. "He came into the jocks' room after a race and pushed a paperback book in my face. It was over something stupid; he had no beef at all," she said. "He went for a hole, I shut the door. I never asked for a shot from anybody on the track, and I don't give anything away. So he comes in and starts cussing me out, and then he pushed the book in my face. I thought he was my friend. His face was right there, so I punched him. There was a guard in the room, and he broke it up."