Horse track by any name OK with Pedroza

Aug 18, 2009 5:05 PM
Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

Jockey glad to be back in the saddle

Martin Pedroza is back. Not that he’s ever been away. He’s been riding races all his life, save for a few bumps in the road, the most serious of which occurred eight months ago, when a fractured pelvis sidelined him for six painful and arduous months.

But the resilient Panamanian returned, as is his wont, and resumed riding late in the Hollywood Park meet. Now, he is going full tilt at Del Mar, where, not only does the turf meet the surf, but the nation’s most talented riders ply their trade day in and day out.

Pedroza, who turned 44 on July 20, recently registered victory No. 3,100. Under the tutelage of omniscient agent Richie Silverstein, who has represented Pedroza for the better part of 22 years starting in 1984, Martin (pronounced Mar-TEEN) lo these many moons has plied his trade with skill and aplomb at every Southern California track, including Fairplex Park, where he is the career leader with 533 victories at the 5/8-mile track in Pomona.

Fairplex Park is one of the few remaining tracks in Southern California with a conventional dirt track. Del Mar (Polytrack), Hollywood Park (Cushion Track) and Santa Anita (Pro-Ride) have all gone synthetic, so Pedroza has had to develop a keen sense of adaptability.

"Each synthetic track is different, but as far as nuances of the major tracks in Southern California, I’d say Del Mar is the one that presents the most difficult adjustment, especially for younger jockeys," Pedroza said. "It’s a totally different ball game at Del Mar, particularly rounding the turn into the homestretch, where you can ride the fence and hope there will be an opening, but that rarely happens. You think you’re going to hit the inside rail, if you’re not familiar with the course.

"At Hollywood, you can ride the paint until the stretch and maybe find an opening, but at Del Mar, you can’t do that. You’re going to go over the rail. Riding at Santa Anita, Hollywood and Del Mar is pretty much the same. The thing that separates Del Mar from the other two is the last turn, the turn for home. That’s when things can get really tight.

"As a matter of fact, each year before the Del Mar meet starts, the stewards meet with the jockeys, especially the younger ones, to make them aware of the potential dangers at that point in the race. A rider might think he has an opening, but when the horse changes leads, it goes right for the fence, and you’re either going to get through or not.

"Other than that, I’d say riding the tracks is pretty much the same, except that each synthetic is different."

Riding the abbreviated track at Fairplex Park is another story altogether, even for Pedroza. He has won the Fairplex crown for 11 straight seasons, and rode a record 51 winners at the 17-day meet in 2004. His most notable win, however, came at Santa Anita in 1989 on 50-1 shot Martial Law in the Santa Anita Handicap, and his lone title outside of Fairplex came at Hollywood’s autumn meet in 2005.

"Pomona probably is the most dangerous track to ride, because it’s smaller," Pedroza allowed. "But it’s safer than it was when it was a half-mile track. But to me, it’s like a regular race track."

Victories are increasing since his comeback, and, after overcoming excruciating pain during his recovery, Pedroza is grateful for small favors.

"I’m very thankful to be here," he said. "The doctor was talking about me being out for a year, and I was back in six months. I won four races at Hollywood, and I was expecting to use the end of that meet to get ready for Del Mar, so that was a bonus. I’m pretty happy with where I am right now."

THE HOMESTRETCH

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Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden