02/26/2010 12:00AM

Here's where you'll find all the dirt


ARCADIA, Calif. - It's breezy and brief, with few punches pulled in its reporting of malfeasance, both admitted and alleged. Welcome to California racing's version of Hush-Hush Magazine - the stewards' minutes - a cross between TMZ and the Congressional Report.

Two months of the Santa Anita Park meet are in the books, and for those of us not paying attention to every detail of the action, the official summary of daily affairs from the stewards' point of view is essential reading and readily available on the California Horse Racing Board website. For instance, I missed this when it happened:

Dec. 28, 2009

Following the running of the first race, as racetrack veterinarian Dr. Stead was slowing his truck down past the wire, he noticed that his truck was smoking under the hood. Upon closer inspection, he realized that his truck was on fire. The human ambulance personnel then used their fire extinguisher to put out the fire. A replacement truck was put into use and the racing card proceeded without incident.

That was AP clean. Just the facts were enough to paint a vivid picture. The following stewards' entry, however, ended with an editorial flourish:

Jan. 3, 2010

Jockey Victor Espinoza called after the conclusion of the seventh race as he was concerned about an incident on the upper portion of the hillside turf course. He said the winner had shut him off approaching the right hand turn. The only angle which was remotely helpful was the 1/4 pole camera, and that angle was not close to what was needed to make a determination of culpability. Management has been looking into installing a stationary, unmanned camera at the right hand turn which would give the Stewards a true head-on shot of the first quarter mile - now is the time.

Advocacy stewardship. Good for them. But then . . .

Jan. 14, 2010

Jockey Martin Pedroza met with us this morning to discuss two races in which he rode yesterday. In the first race yesterday, we received several calls from patrons complaining that Mr. Pedroza hadn't exerted his best effort in attempting to win the race. Films revealed that Mr. Pedroza uses the whip twice in the stretch, pulls clear of the field, looks back, sees a horse gaining on him and gives his horse a vigorous hand ride to the finish.

Unfortunately, Mr. Pedroza's mount finished second. Taking all information into account, it was our opinion that Mr. Pedroza did not violate the best effort rule but admonished him that perhaps using his whip again would keep him out of the stewards' office.

Stewards still think this way. Hit 'em for show, if nothing else. Ah, but when it comes to the thickness of their own skins, well, there was this, the very next day:

Jan. 15, 2010

We required jockey Danny Sorenson to come to the stewards' office when Safety Steward Luis Jauregui reported that Mr. Sorenson had caused a scene by yelling and swearing at him at Clocker's Corner this morning. Mr. Sorenson, after acknowledging that he had behaved in this manner, explained that he had blown up because he felt that Mr. Jauregui had not acted promptly enough in affecting the safety changes that he suggested. . . . The substance of the complaint aside, what we do not allow is a licensee to behave in such a manner, much less toward a steward, especially in the public eye. We explained to Mr. Sorenson that he could expect a fine.

Sorenson was fined $500, or approximately 10 bucks per naughty word. There was also a subsequent meeting held with track management to discuss the concerns raised by Sorenson, a veteran of 32 years who clearly is not afraid of taking one for the team.

During their first eight sets of minutes, Santa Anita stewards Tom Ward, Kim Sawyer, and Scott Chaney also had to spend time dealing with 19 financial issues, arbitrating disputes with Judge Judy-like wisdom, and at least one backstretch traffic ticket. Finally, this entry was a peach, especially for the punchline, but also for the peek into the juggling-act world of jockeys' agents and how they walk that shaky tightrope over the flame.

Feb. 13, 2010

Allen and Susan Branch, accompanied by their trainer, Mark Glatt, were in the office to express their displeasure and frustration over the fact that jockey agent Tommy Ball, who handles the "book" of jockey Chantal Sutherland, abrogated the call he had given them to ride their horse Czechers in the Buena Vista Handicap this coming Monday. Ms. Sutherland had been riding both Czechers and Pretty Unusual, for trainer Barry Abrams, in recent races and both were entered in the race. Glatt and Ball were in the office on Friday to talk about the possibility of a conflict, but since Glatt was planning to run on Saturday it appeared that the situation would work itself out.

Unfortunately, he and the owners changed their plans and decided to run on Monday. Ball was candid and admitted that Glatt had the call for the Monday race first but when Glatt told him of his original plan to run Saturday he also gave a call to Abrams. It has been this Board's policy not to force riders to ride a horse they don't want to ride and fine the agent instead; such is the case in this instance. The majority voted to let Abrams have the use of Sutherland in the race. Steward Sawyer felt that if Sutherland did not ride the Glatt horse she should not be allowed to ride the race.

Kent Desormeaux, who is in town to ride this holiday weekend, will pick up the mount on Czechers.

There you go. Just when things looked bleak, a Hall of Famer rides to the rescue. Czechers finished third, Pretty Unusual fifth, and justice was served again. Sort of.