Pedroza ready for closeup after career in B roles

Dec 6, 2005 2:33 AM

After 23 years, Martin Pedroza is about to become an overnight success.

The 40-year-old jockey has toiled through thick and thin, on the race track and in his personal life, only to press ever onward to the point that after more than two decades, he is on the verge of winning his first major Southern California riding title.

With 10 days remaining in Hollywood Park’s abbreviated and turf-tarnished 27-day meet, Pedroza led runners-up Tyler Baze and Garrett Gomez by nine victories, 20-11.

"I’m a big Martin Pedroza fan," said his agent of 18 years, Richie Silverstein. "I think he always rides well, not just recently. It’s just a question of the caliber of horses that I can get him on. I’d say over the last three years Martin (pronounced Mar-TEEN) has gone to a new level but I don’t think he’s riding any better now than he was last year when he won 51 races at Fairplex."

Ah, Fairplex Park, Pedroza’s Camelot, his Taj Mahal, the five-eighths of a mile "bull ring" where he is the track’s all-time leading rider with 457 victories, including eight titles, the last seven in a row. Successfully negotiating his way around the sharp turns at the Pomona track is second nature to Pedroza, as is his unabashed and energetic use of the whip, which he has held in reserve during his recent tear.

"He was a strong stick rider up until about five years ago," Silverstein pointed out. "At that time he began to use more finesse. He’s become a more relaxed and confident person and it’s reflected in his riding style. This is not just about riding; it’s about who he is. Martin’s riding style has always been displayed through how he is as a person. He’s very intent and it’s very hard to get by him in the stretch because he is that way. When he comes from off the pace, he gets up and wins a lot of photos because of his competitive spirit.

"That comes from his desire to win races and this meet’s riding title. Like I said, he’s so competitive that if he’s close to winning a race he’s going to do everything he can to get there."

So capturing the riding crown at an otherwise forgettable Hollywood meet, late in the year when major races have been decided and horsemen are looking forward to a fresh start in 2006, would hold significance for Pedroza and Silverstein?

"Yeah, it would," Silverstein said. "It would validate Martin for the years he’s put in and for the times he’s stepped up and got all the candy when the big name riders were out of town. It would say that he was the leading rider at a major meet. It would take him from being the king of Pomona to a guy who can win anywhere."

One explanation for Pedroza’s sudden prominence could be attributed to the attrition of mainstays like Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye, Laffit Pincay Jr. and more recently Gary Stevens, although Silverstein pooh-poohs that theory. Their retirement has not presented Pedroza with a plethora of opportunities. The competition for quality mounts still exists.

"It does for us," Silverstein said, "because we’re not usually riding ”˜the horse.’ When a new rider comes to this circuit, let’s just use the name of John Velasquez as an example, trainers will flock to him because he’s a new face and a new name. He wouldn’t have to do anything to prove himself in Southern California, whereas Martin continually must even though he has done everything on this circuit. Every time a name rider is out of town, Martin has gone to the head of the class, so it’s discouraging when a new rider comes in and you still get shoved to the bottom.

"For instance, Mark Guidry came in last year and basically was riding for Steve Knapp and Jeff Mullins, but when there was a stakes race with 12 horses and a trainer had a choice between Guidry and Pedroza, he leaned towards Guidry. That’s a tough pill to swallow when all you do is win, show up and work hard and guys are looking for anybody but you. It hurts."

Silverstein ascribes that mentality to stereotyping.

"The more you’re here, the more you get labeled," he said. "Owners and trainers come and go but the fans are the same and you get labeled by them and it’s hard of not impossible to shake. That poor Paco Mena, he was as good a rider as there was in his era (the career riding leader at Pomona before being surpassed first by David Flores and now Pedroza), but he was the king of the bull ring, the king of Pomona. He never really got the shot or the credit he deserved. If people want to label Martin a Pomona rider or a bull ring rider or a speed rider, that’s the way you’re going to think of him. But the bottom line is, if you look at his statistics and stakes wins over 23 years, you can really say he’s a money rider.

"Let’s face it; Martin doesn’t get that many (stakes) mounts. He rarely rides the favorite. Martial Law paid $130.60 when he won the 1989 Santa Anita Handicap. Saratoga Gambler paid $66 when he won the Ancient Title (in 1994). Most of Martin’s stakes winners before 2004 paid close to triple digits."

Silverstein estimates Pedroza is "a couple hundred wins at best" away from a career milestone of 3,000 and "getting close to $100 million in purses."

But they would pale by comparison should Pedroza capture the Hollywood riding crown.

"The biggest goal is the one that’s within sight," Silverstein said. "That would be to be leading rider of the meet."

The homestretch

In what amounted to an ultimatum, trainers at a California Horse Racing Board meeting last Thursday at Hollywood Park, alarmed at the spate of break downs to their horses due to track conditions, requested that plans begin immediately to have Polytrack surfaces installed at Del Mar, Hollywood and Santa Anita. All the heavy hitters were on hand, including Del Mar President Joe Harper; Ron Charles of Magna Entertainment and Santa Anita; Sherwood Chillingworth of Oak Tree; and Lack Liebau of Hollywood. Cost for a Polytrack at each plant is estimated at $5 million.

”¡ Pedroza has been directly involved in controversial rulings by the new mix of stewards recently assigned by the California Horse Racing Board. Pedroza’s mount, 8-1 shot Genre, was awarded first in the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes even though he was beaten six lengths by odds-on favorite Bob and John.

"I’ve been taken down twice and benefitted once," Silverstein said. "Some of the calls at Del Mar to me were absolutely unbelievable. I benefitted on the decision to disqualify Bob and John, but it’s unbelievable when a horse is taken down after winning by six and is so much the best. The horse Patrick (Valenzuela) rode (Kissin Knight, who finished third, beaten a nose by Genre) definitely would have been second. I got taken down twice in the last three months in decisions also involving Patrick and each time the stewards maintained I cost him a placing, so at least they remained consistent. Were they good calls? No, but the one thing I liked about the Real Quiet call besides the fact that I benefitted was that it was consistent with the two I got taken down on."

”¡ USC-UCLA: If it was a fight, they would have stopped it.