Martin Pedroza has his priorities in order.
He has accomplished much in his career of more than 20 years, but he has yet to attain the world-class recognition of his peers in the Southern California jockey colony.
He won the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on a 50-1 shot, Martial Law, in 1989.
He won six consecutive races at Oak Tree on Breeders’ Cup day, 1992, equaling a mark set by Laffit Pincay Jr. in 1987.
He is the all-time leading rider with 322 victories at Fairplex Park, where he will aim for his fourth championship when the Pomona track runs for 17 consecutive days, Sept. 13-29.
No jockey tries harder than the 37-year-old native of Panama City, Panama. If a horse Pedroza rides doesn’t win, it’s not due to lack of effort on Martin’s part. He has enough confidence for the entire jockeys’ room, but if he’s not on a live mount, even Pedroza can’t drag it to the winners’ circle, although he’s probably strong enough.
He is completing a Del Mar meet that could have been more successful for him.
“I’m OK, I’m just a little frustrated,” said Pedroza, who had been known to wear his heart on his sleeve early in his career, but who has mellowed with age.
“I could have had a better meet, but as long as I’m healthy, that’s all I care about,” he said. “Of course, I’m looking forward to Pomona. I make good money there. I look forward to every meet, but especially that one.”
Pedroza graces the five-eighths of a mile Fairplex oval with the skill of a matador.
He knows every turn, every crevice, like the back of his hand. Still, he knows it is a track that commands respect. The slightest error in judgement by any rider, or misstep by a horse, can result in tragedy, as it did in the death of jockey J.C. Gonzalez in 1999.
This could be the final year of racing at the Los Angeles County Fair. Four months ago, the Los Angeles County Fair Association and Santa Anita agreed to have the Fair’s 17 days run at the Arcadia track, but the California Horse Racing Board in late June nixed the deal, at least for this year. Pedroza, understandably, would like Fairplex to continue indefinitely.
“If you were to ask me, I’d run there every year, but it’s not up to us,” Pedroza said. As for his lack of stakes mounts, Pedroza is puzzled but philosophical. Not that he hasn’t been given an occasional leg up by training luminaries such as D. Wayne Lukas and Julio Canani, among others.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Pedroza, who has more than 2,000 career victories. “I’ve proved myself to everyone over the years. I don’t know what else they want. I’m not a greedy person. Whatever the good Lord gives me is what I take. If I’m given the opportunity, I’m there. If not, well it’s too bad. I’ve done it all. I’ve won a million-dollar race, I’ve won a lot of stakes races at all distances at 16 different race tracks and I’ve won six straight races in one day.”
Pedroza went through a divorce several years ago, but his family, especially his two sons, Brian and Tyler, mean everything to him.
“My main goals are to stay healthy and enjoy my family and do my job,” Martin said. “Whatever the good Lord sends me along with that, I’ll take it.”
THE HOMESTRETCH: At the September Thoroughbred Owners of California board meeting, TOC analyst Wilson Shirley reported that out-of-state advance deposit wagering averaged only $20,000 via TVG and twice that from Youbet. California residents, however, were wagering $260,000 a day on Del Mar through TVG and $90,000 a day via Youbet. Shirley noted that Del Mar purses were receiving about $24,000 a day through ADW, but the board expressed concern that the ADW providers, except for Youbet, do not have wide distribution for the California signal outside the state. Citing dissatisfaction with management’s interest in leasing its dates to other venues, after 54 consecutive years as the track’s resident photographer, Bill Sherlis has called it quits at Fairplex Park. Sherlis has been taking celebratory winners’ circle photos after each race at the Pomona oval since 1947. Oak Tree Racing Association, which hosts the 2003 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, this year will offer 19 stakes races during the 26-day meet that runs Oct. 2 through Nov. 3, and that’s not counting the 10 added-money races presented on California Cup Day, Nov. 2.