Pedersen Eclipses his goals

February 19, 2002 5:12 AM
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Pete Pedersen is one of racing’s treasures.

He was born on the Fourth of July, 1920, the year Man o’ War was a 3-year-old.

Man o’ War raced his way to immortality, receiving many honors along the way.

Monday night, (Feb. 18), at the Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Pedersen, California’s longtime senior steward, was presented the Eclipse Award of Merit, in honor of an individual’s lifetime achievements in thoroughbred racing.

Pedersen’s trek along racing’s trail has not been as illustrious as Man o’ War’s. But his journey has endured for more than six decades and been just as memorable.

He is living history, a museum unto himself. Tall and angular, Pedersen is the epitome of a racing official, both in stature and presence. His qualities are laudable: honesty, humor and humility come foremost to mind. And at age 81, he still has a passion for the game he has loved all his life.

“There’s no question about that,” Pedersen said. “I started in racing when I was 12 and that’s all I ever wanted. I’m just fortunate that I’m still able to do it. For me, not going to a race track would be like getting a jail sentence. I don’t play golf and have no outside interests. Perhaps that’s because racing has so many different facets. I’d rather sit around with race track folks and listen to them tell old horse stories than play golf.”

Pedersen could write a book about his life in racing. In fact, he is an accomplished author, and has written countless informative and moving tales about the Sport of Kings.

He has seen Spectacular Bid, Swaps, John Henry, Round Table and Seabiscuit fly their colors around the track, but ranks Citation as the best Thoroughbred he ever saw.

He has seen racing grow from a leaky roof era to state of the art, and says the fans are the greatest beneficiaries of modern wizardry.

“The public’s participation at the race tracks is the third dimension of the sport,” Pedersen said. “Of course, we miss the excitement of the big (on-track) crowds today, because of the technology that brought in simulcasting, and that won’t change.

“The horse hasn’t changed that much from years ago. In the old days, horses raced more often and didn’t train as much as they do now. They might have been tougher then. But the public is much better off now than it ever was. It used to be that the ”˜sharpies’ knew what was going on ”” not that there was anything going on, but they had the workout information and knew the equipment changes. Today, the public is given so much information that even a real student of the game doesn’t have much of an edge on the average fan.”

Riding styles have changed, too.

“Jockeys used to ride longer (setting their stirrups longer), and even though we didn’t have films of races like we do now, they concentrated on looking good on a horse,” Pedersen said. “That’s not important today. But today’s jockeys, like (Laffit) Pincay (Jr.), (Eddie) Delahoussaye and (Chris) McCarron have done a wonderful job of uplifting the profession.”

As has Pete Pedersen, although he’d be the last to say so.

“There was one racing official who received this award, (the late) Keene Daingerfield, and he was a giant,” Pedersen said. “So I feel delighted even to be in his shadow. I’m pleased for all the other officials. There are so many people who should get an award like this that I feel humble about receiving it. There are scores of people who have devoted their lives to racing.”

The legendary Charlie Whittingham trained into his 80s before he died but never considered retiring. “Retire to what?” Whittingham would say.

Nearing 82, Pedersen is not contemplating calling it a career, although he recognizes that decision may be out of his hands.

“Officials are still appointed by the racing board, so I serve at their pleasure,” Pedersen pointed out. “If my career stops tomorrow, I have absolutely no regrets. I’ll face that day when it comes. I’m glad I’m still able to be here and I’m delighted to date that I’ve had assignments. I can’t worry about tomorrow.”

THE HOMESTRETCH: Joey Franco, a promising California-bred son of Avenue of Flags, has joined Siphonic and Definite Edge as 3-year-olds of note in the David Hofmans barn. Joey Franco didn’t beat much in a four-horse field last Friday, but he won willingly, like a colt that’s maturing fast, and he is nominated to the Triple Crown  Another horse to watch is Suances, who raced in Spain, of all countries. The 5-year-old English-bred son of Most Welcome is trained by Darrell Vienna. Suances has won six consecutive races since running third in his debut. He hasn’t run since June of 2000 in France but was scheduled to start in the American Derby on turf at Arlington some 18 months ago after Vienna bought him for long-time client Jed Cohen, who races as Red Baron’s Barn. “He had a freak accident before the Arlington race,” Vienna said. “He kicked through a gate that had corrugated metal and he severed some ligaments in his right hind leg. It’s just taken a long time to bring him back, but he’s getting really close now. He looks like a horse of very high quality.” When Suances does run at Santa Anita, it will mark a first, because Trevor Denman, who has been calling races in Southern California for nearly 19 years, says he has never seen a horse that raced in Spain, in this instance at San Sebastian race course, run in California . . . Early on, ADW could stand for All Donors Wanted instead of ­­Advance Deposit Wagering.

According to figures from the February meeting of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, ADW did not get out of the gate with the speed of a quarter horse. Through the first 11 days, with two entities taking action, Xpressbet for Magna Entertainment, and TVG, $1,235,588 was wagered in California, less than one percent of the total handle during that time. More bad news from the meeting: Jim Ghidella, TOC’s Northern California representative, noted a steep increase in workers’ compensation rates will take effect March 1. He said that a major company sent letters of non-renewal for about $8 million in premiums. Presently, horsemen are worried about being able to get insurance at all.