12/13/2013 11:37AM

Jay Hovdey: Pegram would like to go back to future

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The people behind the leading contenders in the large field of 2-year-olds suiting up for Saturday’s $750,000 CashCall Futurity have at least one thing going for them. There is no Mike Pegram colt in the mix.

With three winners in the 32 runnings of what used to be called the Hollywood Futurity, Pegram is the most successful owner in the history of the mile and one-sixteenth main track event. John and Betty Mabee’s Golden Eagle Farm and W.T. Young’s Overbrook Farm each won the Futurity twice.

Pegram won it in 1997 with Real Quiet, in 1999 with Captain Steve, and then in 2009 with Lookin At Lucky, a colt he raced in partnership with Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.

“That was my first major Grade 1 with Real Quiet,” Pegram said. “It’s funny, though, everybody thought my other colt, Johnbill, was the one. He was definitely the buzz horse. The entry went off as the heavy favorite, then Real Quiet came up and surprised us all. I remember sitting there wondering what happened to Johnbill. We found out he just wasn’t as good as the other one.”

As it turned out, not many from that generation were in Real Quiet’s class, despite the fact that he needed seven starts before he could win a maiden race. Even after taking the Hollywood Futurity he began his 3-year-old season with three losses. But then he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and came within Victory Gallop’s nose of a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

All three of Pegram’s Futurity winners were thoroughly tested as 2-year-olds. Real Quiet made nine starts, Captain Steve made eight, and even though Lookin At Lucky made only six starts during 2009, half a dozen races is positively medieval by current standards.

“I know the fad is to run a 2-year-old less,” Pegram said. “But as someone who’s watched the sport for a long time, I know the real good ones are not only fast, they’re durable.”

All of Pegram’s Futurity winners went on to make noise. In addition to the Derby and the Preakness, Real Quiet came back at 4 to win the Pimlico Special and the Hollywood Gold Cup. Captain Steve won the Iowa Derby and the Swaps at Hollywood at 3, then blossomed at 4 to take the Donn Handicap and the Dubai World Cup. In 2010 Lookin At Lucky won the Rebel, the Preakness, the Haskell, and became the first colt in 30 years to be a champion at ages 2 and 3.

Even without a CashCall Futurity starter, Pegram will be in town this week for a meeting of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, of which he serves as president. Compared to what his organization is facing, winning the Futurity is a walk in the park. The elephant in the room is the closure of Hollywood Park, and with it the traumatic ripples in racing dates, stabling, and the challenge to maintain Southern California as a major racing circuit.

“When Churchill Downs sold Hollywood Park to the current owners in 2005, the writing was on the wall,” Pegram said, referring to the stated property development intentions the Bay Meadows Land Co. and its parent, Stockbridge Investments. “I think it will go down as one of the major blunders that we did not plan better than we did.”

Back then, in anticipation of a Hollywood Park closure, Pegram was part of a group ready to convert Los Alamitos Race Course in Orange County from a Quarter Horse track to a full-scale Thoroughbred venue, complete with turf course. Pegram and Dr. Ed Allred, principal owner of Los Alamitos, received little encouragement from the rest of the industry, and the proposal was dropped.

Now, Los Alamitos is being tapped as part of the post-Hollywood solution, offering year-round stabling and a new one-mile main track in return for five weeks of racing dates. However, the track no longer owns the piece of property that would have accommodated a grass course. (Pegram said he divested his Los Alamitos ownership interest when he was elected to lead the TOC.)

“So we didn’t get all we wanted,” Pegram said, the “we” being the owners he represents. “And in some ways we’re right back where we were 10 years ago. The only reason we’re still going to be racing anywhere in the L.A. area is because Ed Allred and Frank Stronach at Santa Anita still have passion for the sport. And they won’t be around forever.”

Allred is 77, Stronach, 81.

“For all our problems in California, we’re still showing some growth, and we’re doing it without casino money,” Pegram said. “What we’re not showing is vision.”

True enough, unless your definition of “vision” is drawing up a racing calendar only through 2014 and 2015 and haggling right up to the bitter end over where the money earmarked for vanning and stabling would be spent once the Hollywood Park barn area closes on Jan. 31, 2014. At least one thing Pegram knows for sure is that there will be a race equivalent to the CashCall Futurity this time next year at Los Alamitos, and he hopes to be there with one of his coming 2-year-olds.

“I don’t know which one it will be,” he said. “But he better be a good one, ’cause that’s what it takes to win it.”

Robert More than 1 year ago
Forget Los Alamitos, the real interesting thing will be the fall meet at Del Mar and how that works.
jttf More than 1 year ago
How come mike runs his horses on thyroid meds even though they don't need it ? How come the owners committee hasn't shut down trainers from using these meds ? Is Ronald McDonald the president of the California owners ? Mike says that the best horses run many times as two year olds ? More than 80 percent of the horse of years award winners don't run more twice since the year 2000. Why would anyone listen to this clown ?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
California state government is playing a huge role in the fate of horse racing. Legislators do nothing to help the industry, especially to compete against the Native American owned casinos. Why not do as Louisiana has done and create a partnership? Every casino in Louisiana now has an OTB. It is helping the racing industry along with the fact that the race tracks now have slots and the casinos get money from carrying the race tracks. California also hurt the industry forcing major tracks to spend tens of millions of dollars installing synthetic surfaces. Only Santa Anita got an exemption because even engineers could not figure out how to stop the back stretch from flooding with the synthetic surface and it would up not costing Stronach a penny. Now Stronach's Magna has the best situation, a synthetic track at Golden Gate Fields and dirt at Santa Anita. The CHRB is such a joke in the ways it hurts the industry.
Craig More than 1 year ago
It comes down to ownership or lack thereof.Not enough people with seriuos disposable income want to own thoroughbreds.The juice just isn't worth the squeeze.Even Pegram who owns 30 McDonalds and several other businesses has taken on partners to share the cost and risk.
M More than 1 year ago
He makes a good point.. You always think--"someone else" will step in and run these tracks--invest in them, tie up capital, and continue to invest in the infrastructure... But there does not seem to be a succession plan. But history has shown the "someone" is a private equity or real estate fund that will simply convert the land to other purposes to turn a profit in real estate development (See Bay Meadows or BHP). Who knows if the person(s) these tracks go to will have the same passion or simply want to cash out. Maybe owners/investors need to line up--like now--to form a partnership, organization, private company, etc. to own and lead going forward. These two owners are old--like really old ( I did not know they were that old). And the organization and financing for future ownership and control--be it private, group, or organizational-- should be discussed by the board. The key topic at board strategy meetings: what is your succession plan (Frank, Ed?) We need to know since most of SoCal racing depends on your plans.
Greg Michaels More than 1 year ago
Mike does not know which end of a horse they feed.
Greg More than 1 year ago
Ya Stronach still has passion for the sport, yuck how many millioins did he get away with stealing when he changed ownership from one company to another ridding millions of dollars??? Big dollar stronachhasn't had a good horse since Ghostzapperin 05????
Greg More than 1 year ago
It only shows what a quagmire the state of California is !!!!
GuyFleegman1 More than 1 year ago
Pegram is correct...future planning was disgusting to say the least. But the industry needs Pegram and owners like him that at least are involved and trying.