06/01/2005 11:00PM

Board dismisses 3 stewards

Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins
Pico Central, shown preparing for the Dubai Golden Shaheen at Nad Al Sheba in March, has been on vacation since he finished fourth in that race. He returned to the track Wednesday with a half-mile work in 53.20 seconds at Hollywood Park.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Three stewards based in Southern California - Pete Pedersen, Merlin Volzke, and Jack Williams - are being dismissed by the California Horse Racing Board in coming weeks. The three men were informed of the decision last week, according to CHRB executive director Ingrid Fermin, a former steward.

"Their contracts have not been renewed," she said.

The contracts expire on June 30. Fermin said that Pedersen, 84, will continue as a steward at Hollywood Park through the end of the meeting, on July 17.

Williams, 75, works as an associate steward at Southern California tracks, handling backstretch matters and working as a substitute steward. He has a background as a harness racing driver and trainer and as a racing official in that sport. Volzke, 79, a former champion jockey, is a steward at the mixed meeting at Los Alamitos in Orange County.

Fermin said that "age isn't a factor" in the dismissal of the three stewards.

"These are people that have been a huge asset," she said. "They've served this industry for many years. We're looking for change. It hasn't been just the stewards."

Fermin said changes are being made to the CHRB investigation staff, including transferring employees from track to track and adding new employees.

"The commission has felt strongly we need to do some rotating," Fermin said. "I'm trying to be open to procedural changes. Because we've done something one way for a long time, doesn't mean we can't change."

Pedersen has the most prominent position among the three, having served as a steward at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita in recent years. A steward in California since 1955, Pedersen received the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2002.

Pedersen, who has officiated every Breeders' Cup held in California, did not elaborate on the dismissal. He said he was considering retiring at the end of the year.

"I've been lucky to be on the track this long," he said. "I wanted to work through Oak Tree. This is not the end of the world."

River's Prayer makes it in this time

Three weeks later than her trainer hoped, River's Prayer makes her stakes debut in Saturday's $75,000 Cinderella Stakes at Hollywood Park. Trainer and co-owner Paula Capestro wanted to start River's Prayer in the Nursery Stakes on May 15. The filly failed to draw into the race from the also-eligible list, but won a maiden race three days later.

"I think she could have won that," Capestro said of the Nursery.

The Cinderella, run at 5 1/2 furlongs, is not a tough race. In a field of nine 2-year-old fillies, five of the runners are maidens, and two are making their career debuts.

River's Prayer drew the rail. In her maiden race, she led throughout, finishing 4 1/2 furlongs in a quick 51.91 seconds. Capestro admits the return in a little more than two weeks is not ideal, but believes that River's Prayer is capable of overcoming the short break.

"She's an exceptional 2-year-old because she's so mature at this stage," she said. "With most 2-year-olds, you wouldn't dream of doing this. If she runs well, I think she'll be a classy filly."

River's Prayer's biggest threat in the Cinderella is My Lucky Free, who scored a two-length win in a maiden race at 4 1/2 furlongs on May 19. Owned and trained by Rafael DeLeon, My Lucky Free was fourth in the first quarter-mile of that race before taking the lead in the final furlong.

The other winners in the Cinderella field are Chulla Isabella, a four-length winner of a maiden special weight on May 6, and Kachina River, who won a $40,000 claimer for maidens on May 18. Slick Road, third in the Nursery, is the only member of that nine-filly field to return in the Cinderella. The first-time starters are Empress Pegasus (by Fusaichi Pegasus) and Miranda Stands (by Zamindar).

Al Arz to make U.S. debut for Lobo

Al Arz, a winner of four consecutive stakes in Brazil in 2003-04, makes his U.S. debut on Saturday in a $55,000 optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles, a race that also features the comeback of 2003 Snow Chief Stakes winner Chief Planner.

The field of seven includes El Elogiado, who finished seventh in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar last August. Al Arz could be on his way to that level of stakes if he runs well in Saturday's race. Trainer Paulo Lobo is hoping that Al Arz will start in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9.

Owned by Atreides Racing, Al Arz was purchased privately after his most recent win, a Group 2 race at about 1 1/4 miles on dirt in February 2004. Al Arz has worked well in the last month, including two bullet six-furlong workouts at Hollywood on May 2 and May 30.

"He's fit, but he'll probably need the race," Lobo said.

Chief Planner, trained by Bob Baffert, has not started since winning the Snow Chief for statebreds in April 2003. He, too, has worked well, recording three bullet workouts at Santa Anita in the last month. The most recent of those was six furlongs in 1:11.80 last Sunday.

Owned by Golden Eagle Farms, Chief Planner has never been worse than third. In 2002, Chief Planner placed in three stakes.

Break's over for Pico Central

Pico Central, a top sprinter of 2004, has resumed serious training after a vacation following a fourth-place finish in the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai in March.

Wednesday at Hollywood Park, Pico Central worked a half-mile in 53.20 seconds. Lobo said Pico Central is likely to be ready for a start by the end of the summer, with a race at Del Mar a possibility.

The long-range goal is the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes at six furlongs at Belmont Park in October.

* Louvain, unraced since winning the Miesque Stakes here in November, is questionable for Sunday's $175,000 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap because of a cough, according to Humberto Ascanio, assistant to trainer Bobby Frankel. Ascanio said the filly's participation in the race depends on how she trains on Friday.