09/15/2010 3:53PM

King of the bullring riders explains how it's done


If Martin Pedroza is going to maintain his amazing pace and win practically one out of every two races he rides during the Fairplex Park meeting in Pomona, it is only fair to pose the obvious question:

Why can’t he win them all?

For enlightenment, agent Richie Silverstein was approached for his thoughts on the issue. As Pedroza’s agent, Silverstein is the man putting his jockey on all those winners, and lately relatively few losers. Through the first four cards, they had won with 20 of 41 mounts.

“That’s not going to last the whole meet,” Silverstein said, shortly before Wednesday’s program commenced. “The opening weekend can be kind of easy. You’ve got horses pointing for specific races, a lot of favorites. If I get real lucky I could go 4 for 9 today. Tomorrow probably 2 for 9. I’ve got a monster day Friday, which could get me back on that pace. But you can’t keep it up at four or five a day.”

Pedroza, it should be noted, is the all-time leading rider at the L.A. County Fair meet, which has offered its tossed salad of racing breeds since 1933. This season, at age 45, Pedroza is going for his 12th championship in a row, a contest that was over almost before it began. Such institutionalized dominance as Angel Cordero at Saratoga comes to mind, or Bill Shoemaker anywhere when he was in his prime.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t know what a “bullring” was when, as a young Panamanian import, he descended upon a Southern California jockey colony in the late 1970’s that included Laffit Pincay, Chris McCarron, Sandy Hawley, Eddie Delahoussaye, and Shoemaker, the man himself. Pedroza thought people were talking about some big racetrack called the Bullring.

“Then,” he said, “when I got to Pomona, I thought, ‘Oh my God,’ ”

From his lips. Those who ride the rings with both success and regularity are a special breed. There is a certain serenity that must descend, allowing the rider to accept the fact that every move is intensified, beyond even the breakneck pace of competition at the full-sized tracks. Pedroza outlined his philosophy of bullring attack as a combination of good luck, experience, and anticipation. Mostly, though, he said it’s all about the turns.

“I can be following two guys who are going for it on the lead,” he noted. “I’ll ease out and watch them, and then if they give me the chance I drop down and cut the corner. But maybe they can make the turn. Then I’ve got to go the other way, wide. I can’t do anything about that. Whatever you do, you’ve got to make up your mind. Either go in there, or stay out. Don’t think about it.”

California has its legendary bullring practitioners, with Pedroza’s name right up there alongside his contemporary, David Flores, as well as Ron Hansen, Paco Mena, and Don Pierce, the newly minted Hall of Famer. To a man, they will attest that there are no rides on the midway nearly as stomach-churning as a three-turn spin around the Fairplex layout, which began as a half-miler before it grew to five-eighths. With bends like paper clips and riders coming from near and far, the timid are weeded out in quick order, for it is truly a place where it’s lethal to ride scared.

“Unfortunately, there are some guys who do,” Pedroza noted. “One thing about me -- people know I’m not scared. I’ve fallen so many times, I know I’m fine. I always tell my agent, the only way I don’t ride is if I can’t ride.”

Pedroza was already having a pretty good year by the time he arrived at Fairplex. He was seventh in the Del Mar standings and seventh also at Hollywood Park, where he celebrated win number 1,000 at the Inglewood track by taking the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap aboard EZ’s Gentleman. Pedroza’s career numbers, entering Wednesday’s card, stood at 3,233 winners and mount earnings of $87 million.

Pedroza’s form is especially noteworthy, since it was only about a year and a half ago that he suffered the worst injury of his career when his pelvis was fractured in a freakish post parade incident at Santa Anita. He was back to work by summertime at the tail end of the 2009 Hollywood season, then struggled on the main circuit the rest of the year. The only bright spot to the season was his 11th straight title at Fairplex.

The 2009 season was otherwise noteworthy for the debut of Brian Pedroza as a full-fledged jockey. The Pedrozas named him for trainer Brian Mayberry, one of Martin’s first significant patrons in California, and so far he has carried it well in East Coast competition, although a knee injury recently threw a wrench in his momentum.

In the meantime, there is no stopping dad, with Fairplex title number 12 an almost foregone conclusion. Silverstein, who has represented Pedroza off-and-on (mostly on) since 1984, is taking nothing for granted as the pressure of the Fairplex meet unfolds.

“I set the record here at a longer meet with 51 winners,” said Silverstein, using the traditional agent’s pronoun. “People ask me if I can hit that again. Never mind that – I haven’t won 41 yet, or 31 for that matter.”

Give him a few days.