09/05/2008 12:00AM

Pierce among five new hall-of-famers


AUBURN, Wash. - Larry Pierce, who will be inducted into the Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame on Sept. 14, recalled the day in 1964 when he began riding at Exhibition Park in British Columbia as the contract apprentice for brother trainers Roy, Troy, and J.D. Taylor.

Pierce had ridden at Northwest bush tracks the year before and he also rode briefly at Turf Paradise, but he felt his Exhibition Park debut marked the beginning of his successful career.

"I rode two horses that day," he said. "I rode Quick Charge in the first and Rough Road in the last, and they both won. Looking back at it now, those names were prophetic. I got off to a fast start in my career and I was always successful, but it wasn't easy."

Pierce's accomplishments include 1,039 wins and 63 stakes wins at Longacres, ranking him third and second, respectively, among riders in those categories at that historic track. He also won the Longacres Mile aboard Silver Mallet in 1973 and he was the regular rider for the legendary Turbulator, who was perhaps the most popular horse ever to race in the Northwest. He won Longacres riding titles in 1970, 1971, and 1976, and on May 20, 1972, he set a Washington State record that still stands, winning on seven (of eight) mounts.

"I remember that day very well," he said. "I was miffed at my agent, Nick Puhich, because he wouldn't let me go to California and ride some longshot in a stakes. I told my wife I wouldn't win a single race that day, and then I went out and won seven. It was just a magical day."

Pierce said that Turbulator, whom he rode to numerous stakes wins and to a world-record performance in the 1970 Governor's Handicap, was undoubtedly the best horse he ever rode.

"He was the most awesome animal I've ever been on," he said. "His stretch kick was just unbelievable. I remember telling my brother Don, who rode lots of top horses in California, that I was riding a great horse. He said I had no way of knowing what a great horse was, because I had never ridden one. I did, though. I rode Turbulator."

What made Pierce's career difficult was the constant need to reduce weight. From the time he reached his full height of 5-foot-9 at the age of 23, he had to shed several pounds every day he rode. Even after reducing, he rarely rode at less than 120 pounds and was often heavier.

"My size limited the horses I could ride, and the reducing was just a grind," he said. "My wife convinced me to retire after the 1976 season because she was worried about the toll on my health, and I trained for four years. I decided to return to riding in 1981 and everyone thought I was crazy. I went from 158 pounds to 117, though, and that first year back I won 92 races and 12 stakes at Longacres. I'm pretty proud of that."

Pierce retired from riding for good in 1984 at the age of 39 and trained for several years, then left the track before returning this year to work as a jockey agent. He is glad that he survived a long riding career with his health intact, but he still misses riding.

"I made up my mind to be a rider when I was 8 years old, and I never really questioned that decision," he said. "I just loved to ride and I put everything I had into it. I liked to win, and I did my best to win. I have no regrets."

Joining Pierce in this year's class of inductees is breeder Frank Brewster, trainer Glen Williams, and Belle of Rainier, the striking gray filly who won 17 races, including 14 stakes, en route to $424,526 in earnings in the early 1980s. Legendary racing official Pete Pedersen was inducted for his lifetime of achievements in a special ceremony on Longacres Mile Day, Aug. 17.

WTBA summer yearling sale a downer

"It was Katrina without water," said one veteran observer of Tuesday's WTBA summer yearling sale.

There was no wind, either, but the sale was certainly a disaster for most, if not all of the consignors. Consider that 85 of the 199 horses that passed through the ring failed to attain their reserves, including 34 who did not draw a bid for the upset price of $2,000. Another 40 horses sold for $5,000 or less.

With the middle of the market all but disappearing and the bottom ballooning, the average price declined 25.8 percent to $11,224 and the median price was off 45.8 percent to $6,500. Gross sales declined 41 percent from $2,168,100 last year to $1,279,500. That means the WTBA's revenue, which it derives from 5 percent of the gross, sunk from $108,405 last year to $63,975. That may be enough to cover the cost of putting on the sale, but it didn't leave much left over to help the organization's beleaguered budget.

The one bright spot in the sale came at the top of the market, which remained relatively robust. With a $92,000 filly leading the way, there were 18 yearlings who sold for $20,000 or more, including six who sold for $40,000 or more.

Most horsemen believe the cure for the current soft market for Thoroughbreds in Washington is higher purses at Emerald Downs. No one could articulate a viable plan for bringing that desirable result about.

* Sandi Gann has officially retired from riding after a career that spanned 20 years and netted 1,207 wins. Gann, a 45-year-old native of Astoria, Ore., plans to launch a training career in Arizona. Gann's last win came aboard the Mike Puhich-trained The Liver Is Evil on Aug. 21 at Emerald Downs.