12/03/2010 4:59PM

Apprentice Pedroza gets off to a quick start


Like a lot of teenagers, 17-year-old apprentice jockey Marcelino Pedroza watches plenty of television – just not strictly the shows typically popular with youths.

Horse racing channels are his favorites, where he might watch one of his uncles, jockey Martin Pedroza, ride on the West Coast, or another uncle, jockey Cornelio Velasquez, compete in New York. From watching them in action, as well as other riders, his goal is to incorporate some of their techniques and strategies into his own racing riding.

As he showed several times over the latter course of the Churchill Downs meet, where he was the leading apprentice, he can even call upon jockey Calvin Borel’s playbook when needed. He did just that in winning aboard 2-year-old Depeche Cat in a maiden race last Saturday on a “Stars of Tomorrow” card, boldly urging his late-rallying 2-year-old up a narrow opening along the fence.

“I learned that one when Calvin won the Kentucky Derby,” the Spanish-speaking Pedroza said Friday via his interpreter, agent Julio Espinoza.

Now, Pedroza is off to a fast start at Turfway Park, winning two races on Thursday’s opening-night card.
Pedroza – a native of Panama City, Panama – will ride at least the Holiday meet at Turfway, which over the years has vaulted such young apprentice riders as Julien Leparoux and Rafael Bejarano into prominence. The Holiday meet runs through the end of the year, before the winter/spring meet begins without interruption thereafter.

Early next year, he could go to Aqueduct or Oaklawn Park to ride, depending on where his business takes him, Espinoza said.

In the meantime, the Holiday meet serves as a chance for Pedroza to pick up riding experience and improve his communication skills. He speaks little English, though Espinoza, a former rider, is mentoring him in both areas.

Although Pedroza has distant family in the United States with his uncles, he left behind his mother and father in Panama for the opportunity to ride in this country. If he has regrets, they are few.

“The only thing in my mind is to make a future for myself and be one of the top riders in America,” he said. “It gets a little lonely, but I’ve got a lot bigger things to conquer.”

One thing he hasn’t done is fail to win over supporters. Trainer Wesley Ward, himself an Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey in 1984, put him on horses at Keeneland this fall, with Pedroza twice winning aboard the talented filly Nina Fever there for him.

Ward, who went to New York as a 16-year-old apprentice, said the challenge he faced as a young rider – and perhaps one Pedroza will experience – is not so much adapting to life at the racetrack, but life outside of it.

“When I left the gates and went into the big city, it was very intimidating and somewhat scary,” Ward said.

Now is the time for Pedroza to showcase his talent. However, he only has his “bug,” or apprentice allowance, until March due to him riding in Panama prior to coming to America this fall.

Espinoza noted that this could cost the jockey a chance to compete for an Eclipse Award. Usually, the Eclipse goes to the apprentice with the most wins and/or earnings in a given year, and no matter how well he does from now until March, his statistics likely won’t be padded enough to give him a realistic chance.

But Espinoza can take comfort in having a driven young jockey who wants to be the best. To that end, that counts more than any award would.

Lane’s End Stakes dropped to a Grade 3

When the Graded Stakes Committee announced its revisions for 2011, one of the biggest surprises may have been the downgrading of the Lane’s End Stakes – the signature race at Turfway Park – from a Grade 2 to a Grade 3.

But track president Bob Elliston believes the downgrading will have little impact on the race.

“It is still a graded stakes,” he said. “And when you have a half a million purse, you win and you punch your ticket into the Derby.”

His comment is in reference to graded stakes earnings being the criterion for entry when the Derby is oversubscribed beyond its 20-horse limit, which happens with regularity.

Also dropping from a Grade 2 to a Grade  3 was the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, another race over a synthetic track. It is just two weeks before the Derby and has in recent years failed to attract elite 3-year-olds.

This year, with Santa Anita having replaced its Pro-Ride surface with a dirt track, the Lane’s End – as well as the Lexington Stakes and Blue Grass at Keeneland – might receive a boost in being able to attract runners from the West Coast that have shown a preference for synthetics. In the past, top synthetic runners had little reason to bypass the Santa Anita Derby and the other top stakes at Santa Anita.

◗ Joe Woodard, regularly one of Turfway Park’s leading trainers, has begun serving a suspension for medication violations from last winter, and his horses, which are typically owned by Billy, Donna, and Justin Hays, have begun racing for several of Woodard’s assistants.

One such horse, Gloss, competes in the fifth race Sunday, a $12,500 claimer, with Tony Scott as his new trainer of record.

◗ A $24,000 second-level allowance with a $40,000 claiming condition is the headline race at Turfway on Sunday, drawing a field of six. Max Silverhammer and Vow to Wager, both two-time winners over the local Polytrack surface, have the strongest chances of victory.