04/24/2012 12:40PM

Hollywood: 'Chaplain Eddie' Meza and wife Francis team up with A Jealous Woman

Benoit & Associates
A Jealous Woman under Brice Blanc with trainer Francis Meza and husband, Chaplain Eddie Meza, right.

When Eddie Meza assumed the job of racetrack chaplain at Southern California tracks four years ago, it seemed like the only job in the stable area he had not tried.

Since he was a teenager, Meza, 51, has been a jockey, an exercise rider, a stable foreman and assistant trainer. Not surprisingly, he continues to take a multi-tasking approach to work life. In addition to working as a chaplain, Meza helps train a six-horse stable run by his wife, Francis.

Saturday at Betfair Hollywood Park, Francis Meza will saddle A Jealous Woman in the $125,000 B. Thoughtful Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares. Both the 6-year-old mare and her trainer will be after their first stakes win in the race, which is run over 7 1/2 furlongs on the synthetic main track.

“They’ll have to catch her,” Eddie Meza said.

The Mezas, who celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary on Wednesday, launched the stable last fall. Francis had her first winner last October, and has won with two of her first 13 starters. She nearly had her first stakes win on April 7 when A Jealous Woman finished second to the European import Belle Royale in the American Beauty Stakes at Santa Anita.

A Jealous Woman led to deep stretch and was beaten a half-length.

“She never saw that horse,” Francis Meza said. “She was pulling my groom to the winner’s circle. She thought she won the race.”

Owned by the Three Cent Stable partnership, A Jealous Woman has won 5 of 12 starts and $236,516. She has essentially had two careers. For trainer Bill Spawr in the winter of 2009-2010, A Jealous Woman won three of her first four starts before being sidelined by a tendon injury.

When she returned to training last fall, she was sent to Francis Meza. The tendon remains a concern, Francis and Eddie Meza say.

“The vet said she would never run again,” Eddie Meza said.

A Jealous Woman runs with an altered shoe on the leg with the affected tendon. The rubber pad between the foot and shoe is slightly elevated at the back of the foot, to reduce pressure on the tendon, Eddie Meza said.

“It’s like a girl with high heels,” he said. “It really helps the horse with the problem.”

The Mezas have six horses in training at Santa Anita, and expect a few more horses to join the team this spring.

Eddie Meza spends as much time with the horses as possible, but stays busy with the chaplaincy. Through a typical race week, he conducts prayer services with the jockeys and starting gate crew before each racing day, provides private counseling, and holds a Sunday evening church service for backstretch employees. Sunday mornings are too busy at the races for a service.

“They don’t get done with their work until the races are over,” Eddie Meza said. “When the churches outside are closed, we open ours at the track.”

It all makes Eddie Meza one of the most familiar and popular figures in the stables. He says he began reading the Bible in the early 1990s after he admitted that a rowdy lifestyle had caught up with him. In one case, it got him fired from a backstretch job.

“I was influenced by the drugs, the gambling and the alcohol,” he said. “I had to get away from that. We did what we needed to change our lives. We made the changes and started reading the Bible.”

Eddie Meza has been active with the chaplaincy for more than 20 years. Francis Meza works with him, as secretary.

“We decided to help the people on the backstretch,” Eddie Meza said.

Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s B. Thoughtful Stakes, Chaplain Eddie, as he is best known, will be walking the backstretch on Sunday morning, checking on people. While one job pauses, another continues.