08/11/2017 3:36PM

Hovdey: Bowen would like to end Emerald career with a Mile


They’re running the Pete Pedersen Stakes at Emerald Downs on Sunday, as part of the Longacres Mile undercard, and wouldn’t Pete have a laugh about that.

Once, when confronted with a request to present the trophy for the Hollywood Gold Cup, upon the announcement of his retirement, California’s senior and most respected steward cracked, “I told them they were really taking a chance. If I were shot, there would be many suspects.”

Anyone lucky enough to cross paths with Pedersen during his long career was better for the experience. He approached his job with an equanimity that allowed for considerably more light than heat, no small accomplishment when at one time or another half the audience thinks you’re a saint and the other half an idiot.

Pedersen was 92 when died in August of 2012, still holding the memories of his formative racing years in the Northwest close to his heart. The Seattle native worked as a hotwalker, publicist, reporter, handicapper, and a racing official before answering the call to California, where he applied a steady hand and wry perspective to the grab bag of issues confronted by racetrack stewards, from drug positives to financial misconduct to parking violations to the sexual assault of a barn goat by a backstretch licensee.

“There’s no accounting for taste,” Pedersen said later when asked about the case. “But the concern here is for the well-being of the goat.”

In retirement, Pedersen made the pilgrimage to Emerald Downs each summer for the Longacres Mile. This was only fitting, since he was there when Longacres, now long gone, opened for business in August of 1933. As a published writer, Pedersen always was attuned to the good story, and this year’s Mile would have kept him thoroughly entertained.

For starters, the field of 12 includes the last two Mile winners – Point Piper, now 7, and Stryker Phd, a robust 8. Gold Rush Dancer invades from Southern California, with the white-hot apprentice Evin Roman attached. Among the locals, it is thrilling to see Mach One Rules and Barkley take their epic rivalry to the big stage in the Mile, while the well-traveled Bistraya, who trains at Hastings, deserves to be in the mix.

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Pedersen might zero in on Chief of Staff, a Northwestern newcomer dripping with story lines.

The son of Majestic Warrior has been prepared for the Mile by Mike Puhich, who runs Dr. Mark DeDomenico’s Pegasus Training Center in nearby Redmond. He is owned by DeDomenico and Mike Waters, who goes by the Muddy Waters Stable. According to Puhich, Waters’s flooring company did much of the work at the Pegasus facility, which caters to both human and equine athletes, and got the bug to buy a horse.

“He went from one horse to 35 in a hurry,” Puhich said.

Chief of Staff spent his early years with Jerry Hollendorfer in Southern California, then joined the Jack Van Berg stable at Oaklawn Park this spring. It does not take a handicapping genius to note that Chief of Staff finished four lengths off the outstanding sprinter Whitmore in the Count Fleet in Hot Springs, then ran against Limousine Liberal in the Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day.

“He ran with some good horses back there, and wasn’t beaten that bad,” Puhich said. “He just wasn’t quite that good. He came home right after the race on Derby Day and got a little break at the farm. He’d had six races at Oaklawn plus the one in Kentucky.

“I talked to Jack this morning and told him I’d never seen him going so good,” Puhich added. “And we’ve got Rocco to ride. He knows his way around out there.”

No kidding. Rocco Bowen, originally from Barbados, has graduated from Portland Meadows to leading rider at Emerald Downs the past two seasons. Entering the weekend, Bowen had won 89 races at the meet, 40 more than Kevin Orozco, his closest pursuer.

“This is the horse I wanted to ride in the Mile,” Bowen said of Chief of Staff. “I worked him last Sunday and liked him very much. It wasn’t a real fast work, but I didn’t want to leave his race on the track.”

Bowen, 28, said this will be his last Emerald Downs meet. He will be setting up shop in Northern California after the season ends, and hopes he can add the Longacres Mile as a flourish to this chapter of his career.

“I never want to stop learning, getting better,” Bowen said. “That’s what I got from Garrett Gomez, who I considered my mentor. When I was younger, I got to know him, and we talked at least once a month. He was very encouraging, and helped me a lot.”

One day, when they were at the same track, Gomez sent word for Bowen to see him in the jocks’ room.

“He had something for me,” Bowen said. “I thought it would be an autographed picture of him on Beholder winning the Breeders’ Cup filly race. He knew how much a loved that race. Instead, he gave me the whip he carried that day.”

Gomez died last December at age 44 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier this month.

“It means even more now that he’s gone,” Bowen said. “I keep it at home, under glass, and every time I look at it I am inspired.”