Silverstein finds gold for Pedroza at Fairplex Park

Aug 30, 2005 12:05 AM

Televison and violence, Hoffas and Teamsters, movies and toilet humor, inquiries and Del Mar, steroids and sports and Pedroza and Pomona.

If they were categories on "Jeopardy," they would be labeled "Things That Go Together."

Pedroza and Pomona, however, is a particularly more palatable parable than the other parallels. Pedroza (first name Martin, pronounced Mar-TEEN) has won more races at Fairplex Park in Pomona (431) than any rider in history. Last year, in the span of only 17 days, his mounts at the popular five-eighths of a mile Los Angeles County Fair track commonly referred to as a "bull ring" earned more than $1 million, unprecedented in 65 previous seasons. Pedroza won with 38 percent of his 134 mounts and had 37 more wins than runner-up Omar Figueroa.

Pedroza looks forward to the Fairplex meet like Californians look forward to driving their cars while using their cell phones. The 40-year-old Pedroza is one of the most industrious jockeys on the Southern California circuit. Temple has a better chance of winning the BCS than another jock has of keeping Pedroza from capturing his seventh consecutive riding title and eighth overall at the Fairplex meet that runs from Sept. 9 through Sept. 25.

"His success comes with experience, opportunity and a chance to ride one of the top choices every race," says Richie Silverstein, the Nostradamus of agents who has represented Pedroza for nearly two decades. "But that said, if he was given the same opportunity at any race track I think Martin would be leading rider. It all comes down to opportunity.

"I feel Martin has always done everything asked of him no matter where he’s ridden. His numbers stack up against anybody’s over the years, but the Fairplex meet in particular comes down to knowledge and experience over the race track and the opportunity to ride live horses."

Pedroza won 10 stakes races last year, seven at Fairplex. His only graded victory came in the Grade III Native Diver aboard Truly A Judge at Hollywood Park. His richest win ever came in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in 1989, when he rode Martial Law to a $130.60 upset for trainer Julio Canani, who has given Pedroza intermittent legs up throughout his 23-year career.

"You can’t do much about getting a mount in a stakes when there are only four or five horses in it and (Alex) Solis and (Garrett) Gomez and Patrick (Valenzuela) have mounts," Silverstein said of Pedroza’s sparse stakes engagements. "You take it in stride. But when there’s a nine or 10-horse stakes field and you’re seventh or eighth in the standings and can’t get a mount, that’s frustrating. It also gets frustrating to ride a gazillion stakes winners at Pomona and then get taken off at least half of them when you get to the next track.

"This will be our 18th or 19th Pomona together. With 51 wins in 17 days last year we broke the record held by David Flores, (who won 48 races in 19 days in 1991). I don’t know how much we’ve made in purses at Del Mar so far. Thirty-three days into the meet I’d venture to say it was about $700,000. At Pomona we’ve got a shot to make more than that in half the time. The purse money is phenomenal there."

The 46-year-old Silverstein, who also books mounts for Omar Berrio, benefits from panoramic vision when it comes to vital issues concerning California racing, such as the recent sale and possible closing of Hollywood Park.

"I’ve envisioned Hollywood closing for a while now but somehow it’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat," Silverstein said. "A magic trick always saves it. I see it closing in three years or less but at the same time it’s a wonderful facility, it’s linked to the (card) casino and nothing’s larger than Texas Hold’em right now so under the right circumstances, it can be saved and with expanded racing at Pomona and Los Alamitos on hold, where else are they going to go? If Hollywood stayed open for another 20 years I would believe it and if it closed in one year I would believe it. I don’t feel racing there has to be sustained for three years. I think three years was put in the contract to make sure horsemen didn’t panic, but I think in reality, it could close after one year."

Silverstein had mixed thoughts on the future of racing in the Golden State.

"We still have the (good) weather, great horses, probably the best jockeys in the world, and a fan base," he said. "But computerized betting is not helping. A person sitting at home has his choice of the best value. He might get five or six to one on a third choice in a 12-horse field at a track outside California. Sometimes the third choice in California is 8-5, so bettors are going to take their best shot. As far as Pick 6 and Pick 4 betting, I think California still leads the country.

"There are enough intelligent people to save racing in the state; I just don’t know how. Subsidizing it through Indian revenue would be the easiest and best scenario. If the Indians were to subsidize racing to keep slots out of tracks and card casinos and give us money that we could pump into purses while assuring them we would not go for video poker and slots, those purses would allow California to be comparable or better than tracks that benefit from Indian gaming.

"If that were to happen we’d be saved. The bottom line is this: while California races $10,000 claiming horses for purses of $11,000 and $12,000, and $5,000 horses run for $22,000 pots in West Virginia and New Mexico, we can’t compete. Racing in California under present conditions eventually would be for blue bloods and owners who don’t mind losing a little money just to be in the game. But as a business, it doesn’t make sense to stay in California."

The homestretch

The Daily Racing Form’s listing of dead or retired horses among its top-rated runners is an enigma. If a horse is dead or retired it should be ineligible. Next thing you know Dr. Fager and John Henry will be resuscitated in the rankings. Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth aren’t among baseball’s current seasonal home run leaders.

And, has one-dimensional East Coast bias ever been more evident than in DRF’s ranking of sprinters. Before his ninth straight dominant victory in the Grade I King’s Bishop Stakes, DRF had the undefeated Lost In The Fog a mind-boggling sixth, beneath Pico Central, who finished last in the Pat O’Brien? If Lost in the Fog were based in New York he’d be hailed as the second coming of Secretariat.