11/24/2004 12:00AM

Peterson death accidental, police say

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The death of trainer Doug Peterson on Sunday was caused by an accidental drug overdose, according to an investigator with the Los Angles Police Department.

Peterson was found dead in his room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Sunday evening. He had last been seen at Hollywood Park on Saturday afternoon, when he started El Prado in Action, who finished sixth in the fifth race.

According to Mike DiPasquale of the LAPD's Pacific Division, the drugs that caused Peterson's death will not be known until toxicology tests are completed.

"It looks like an overdose, but they don't know of what," DiPasquale said.

He said that no foul play was suspected in the death of the 53-year-old Peterson and that he considered the case "to be closed."

Peterson, who trained Seattle Slew during his 4-year-old season in 1978, had 22 horses in his stable at Hollywood Park at the time of his death.

Peterson was best known for his association with Seattle Slew, the champion older male of 1978. In recent years, Peterson's stable consisted primarily of claiming horses, but he seldom went a year without winning a stakes. In 2001, Peterson won a division of the Oceanside Stakes with Sigfreto, who won the Phil Shepherd Stakes at Fairplex Park the following year.

A large man who stood 6 foot 5, Peterson was seldom present at the racetrack for morning training, but frequently attended the races in the afternoons when he had a runner, always dressed in a suit and tie.

Assistant trainer Rafael De Leon spoke with Peterson after the races on Saturday, and said that Peterson complained of being "in a lot of pain." De Leon could not reach Peterson on Sunday to tell him that two horses had been entered for Wednesday's program.

He quickly grew concerned. "He never answered the phone, and he always answered when I called," he said.

De Leon learned of Peterson's death when he arrived at the backstretch on Monday.

The stable will continue under the direction of De Leon, 43.

"We'll move training to my name and we'll see what happens," De Leon said. "I appreciate the opportunity that people are giving me."

De Leon worked for Peterson for five years, having previously worked for Clifford Sise, Randy Bradshaw, and D. Wayne Lukas.

The stable had two runners Wednesday. Lady Bartok finished third in the second race and Chig Car Go Bull finished fifth in the fourth.

After the first race at Hollywood Park on Wednesday, a moment of silence was held in Peterson's honor. His photograph was shown on television monitors, and track announcer Vic Stauffer read a list of Peterson's training accomplishments.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 512 W. Duarte Rd, in Arcadia, Calif.

Peterson is survived by his mother, Leona; a brother, Ron; and a 9-year-old son, David.

Rare appearance by a McGaughey starter

For the first time in more than 11 years, New York trainer Shug McGaughey will have a starter in California when Good Reward runs in Sunday's $500,000 Hollywood Derby.

Good Reward will be McGaughey's first runner in California since Lure won the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita in 1993.

"There have been a couple of horses I wanted to run out there, but it didn't work out," he said by telephone from New York on Wednesday.

Good Reward will be making his Grade 1 debut in the Hollywood Derby, run over 1 1/4 miles. The colt is impeccably bred, being by leading stallion Storm Cat out of Heavenly Prize, the 1994 champion 3-year-old filly.

The pedigree suggests that Good Reward should have been a Triple Crown candidate, but McGaughey focused on turf after Good Reward worked on the surface last winter at Gulfstream Park.

"He went very good," McGaughey said. "That really opened my eyes."

Owned by the Phipps family, Good Reward has won 2 of his 7 starts on turf, with both wins coming at Keeneland - an allowance race in April and the Storm Cat Stakes over a mile on Oct. 10.

In between, Good Reward started in four stakes, including a third-place finish in the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga.

"He was competitive in his races in New York," McGaughey said.

McGaughey said the distance and the timing of the Hollywood Derby is ideal for Good Reward.

"There aren't many Grade 1's for 3-year-olds at this time of year," McGaughey said.

"I think he's improved. I really liked his race at Keeneland. He's been anxious to run a distance of ground."

Three Grade 1's

The derby is one of three Grade 1 stakes in the Autumn Turf Festival, which runs from Friday through Sunday.

The derby field is led by Blackdoun, the winner of the Del Mar Derby, and Imperialism, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby.

The other Grade 1 stakes this weekend are Saturday's $400,000 Citation Handicap over 1 1/16 miles and Sunday's $500,000 Matriarch Stakes for fillies and mares over a mile on turf.

Entries uncoupled in stakes

Hollywood Park received permission from the California Horse Racing Board on Wednesday to run uncoupled entries in the weekend's Grade 1 stakes.

The decision means that Citation hopefuls Special Ring and Tsigane, who are owned by Prestonwood Farm, and Etoile Montante and Intercontinental, candidates for the Matriarch Stakes owned by Juddmonte Farms, will not be coupled.