Jockey Miguel Mena displayed outstanding horsemanship and courage during Saturday’s eighth race at Churchill Downs while helped aid loose rival Marine Pilot on the far turn of the 1 1/8-mile turf race.
Marine Pilot dropped his rider Giovanni Franco when he appeared to clip heals with another rival as horses exited the first turn and headed into the backstretch. As a result, the reins were dangling loose in front of Marine Pilot’s front legs as he continued on rider-less in mid-pack.
“I could see the reins dangling beneath him,” jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., rider of ninth-place finisher Dattts Our Guy, said. “I told Miguel ‘Watch out for that horse. His reins are going everywhere.’”
Mena, who was rallying on the outside under Archangel Rose, rode up along the side of Marine Pilot at the three-eighths pole and, amazingly, flipped the reins back over Marine Pilot’s head with his left hand to prevent the reins from getting tangled in the horse’s legs.
“He was a true hero,” Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Chief Steward Barbara Borden said. “It was an amazing display of horsemanship done with the safety of the horses and his fellow riders in mind.”
“Luckily everything worked out,” said Mena, who went onto finish second beaten only three-quarters of a length by Star Cross. “My horse ran a very good second and if I didn’t get the reins back on the loose horse, he could’ve tripped and fell.”
Marine Pilot was corralled after the race by Churchill Downs’ outriders and returned safely to trainer John Ortiz’s barn