07/28/2010 2:34PM

Delightful Kiss tries to give Pete Anderson another good story


DEL MAR, Calif. – Pete Anderson, barrel-chested and bandy-legged, was an accomplished jockey of some repute who also was blessed with a useful arsenal of social skills. Because of this, stories he tells of high times and heady encounters with the likes of Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Betty Grable, and Rocky Marciano ring entertainingly true.

But then he went too far, when he dropped a very serious name.

“When I was in Maryland one time, I told my friend Chick Lang there was a guy I really admired – J. Edgar Hoover,” said Anderson, who turns 79 in November. “Lang said, ‘He’s coming to the races today. You’ll meet him.’ And for some reason we really got along.”

Okay, we’ll get back to Hoover later. First, it should be noted that Anderson, as he spoke, was sitting outside a stall at the Ron McAnally barn at Del Mar. Inside the stall was the 6-year-old Delightful Kiss, now gone almost bone white after a well-traveled career of 7 wins and 9 placings in 31 starts, good for slightly more than a million dollars in earnings.

Anderson, who lives in Florida when he’s not on the road, has enjoyed half ownership in Delightful Kiss. Usually, he is the trainer of record as well, although he shares that role with his daughter, Aggie Ordonez, when their horse makes the occasional appearance out West, like the one scheduled for Friday at Del Mar, in the $125,000 Cougar II Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on the synthetic main track.

Anderson has visited Del Mar once or twice over the last few decades, but Friday marks his first competitive appearance in more than 60 years. He rode Grandfather for owner John D. Hertz in the 1949 Del Mar Futurity, and the stakes horse Kab for Harry James and Betty Grable. Anderson was 18.

“Harry, Betty, and I went bowling, had a great time,” Anderson said.

To place James and Grable in the hierarchy of celebrity couples at the time, this would be like going to a Lakers game with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett. Grable was the Cheryl Tiegs of World War II pinups.

“I remember one time I was just looking at her,” Anderson recalled, with an expression that could only be described as wistful. “Harry sees me and goes, ‘What’re you looking at?’ I was just a young kid. I must have turned 17 shades of red.”

The bulk of Anderson’s accomplishments occurred in the East and Midwest, and they were considerable. He won the Acorn, the Ashland, the Laurel Futurity, the Hawthorne Gold Cup, the Louisiana Derby, the Breeders Futurity, the Top Flight, the Gazelle – you get the picture. Anderson rode horses such as Bold Bidder, Verbatim, Cannonade, and Stupendous, but the best one he ever rode was Forego, and the best race he ever won was the 1958 Belmont Stakes, aboard the Irish colt Cavan.

“I had to give up the mount on Forego because I couldn’t do the weight,” Anderson said, which sounded crazy, since Forego spent most of his life under 130 pounds or more. But Anderson rode the big gelding early in his career, before he broke through as a three-time Horse of the Year, and despite measuring just 4-foot-11, he had a tough time making the 112 needed in those days to stay in business.

As for the Belmont, Anderson takes every chance he can get to set the record straight.

“All the headlines were ‘Tim Tam Breaks Down and Loses Belmont,’ ” Anderson said. “Cavan was leaving Tim Tam before he took that bad step. No way he was beating my colt that day.”

Fair enough.

Anderson was also a passionate golfer and parlayed vocation and avocation into celebrity circles.

“Gleason, what a great guy, the Great One,” Anderson recalled. “My wife and I would arrive at his house and he’d answer the door, evening jacket and red carnation in his lapel. He’d ignore me and take my wife’s hand, lead her inside, then close the door in my face.

“I was played a lot of golf with Rocky Marciano – you know, he wasn’t that big a guy – and once he hit one wide, coming close to some other group,” Anderson said. “One of them started mouthing off, real obnoxious, but Rocky just said he was sorry and was quiet about it. The guy wouldn’t stop. I said to Rock, ‘Let me go over there and tell him who he’s talking to.’ But Rocky said no, leave it alone. I would have given anything to have seen that guy’s face.”

And then there was Hoover, perhaps the best known law enforcement figure in the history of the nation. Anderson and his family got a personal Hoover tour of the FBI offices in Washington, after which the jockey sealed the deal as only horseplayers can.

“He gave me his number,” Anderson said. “I called him one day when I liked a horse I rode, and the horse won. Then I touted him again on a horse I rode in the Coaching Club American Oaks, Missile Belle, and she won. He called me that night, and I told him I’d send him the picture. Later, he told me he hung it up behind his desk at home.”

That was 1970, when Missile Belle won the Oaks. Two years later, Hoover died.

“Years later, when I got turned down for stalls, I said I wished Hoover was alive today,” Anderson said. “There’d be nobody turn me down. But I don’t know anybody now. I couldn’t get myself arrested.”

Like Anderson, Delightful Kiss has been in for the long haul, although it has been since January 2009 that he won a race. But Del Mar is a place for surprises, and the Cougar fits his style.

“He’s just like me now – old and grouchy,” Anderson said. “A very unfriendly rascal. When he was a 2-year-old he swung his head and cut me over the eye, blood running out of my nose. One day he bit me in the chest.

“On his day he still puts in a run, though,” Anderson added. “He just hasn’t got the fire he used to have. None of us do. But going a mile and a half, he just might have it this time.”