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Q&A: Richard Tedesco
Track superintendent at Santa Anita and Del Mar, where in recent years he has overseen maintenance of both natural dirt and synthetic surfaces.
Birthdate: July 8, 1937, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Family: wife, Traci; son, David
Got into racing because . . . "I was stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky. To get out of duty, I grabbed a bunch of guys and drove to Lexington to see the horse farms on a Sunday. Calumet was in full operation at the time. They didn't have visitors on Sunday, but because we were in the service they let us come in. They led us around. I saw the way that place was put together, the history, and fell in love with it."
Did you always like horses? "I grew up in a construction family. When I went into the service, I had never had any contact with horses."
What was your first job on the racetrack? "When I got out of the service, I was working in construction. I was driving by Hollywood Park one day in 1964 and saw a front-end loader. I left my name, hoping to get a job there. They called. They promised me three weeks work. I stayed there 37 years."
How did you gravitate toward becoming a track superintendent? "I did everything on the track. I decided I wanted to learn more. I didn't just want to go around in circles. I got to be friends with the old-timers, like Charlie Whittingham. I learned something from everybody. They didn't have a hospital in those days. They would do operations in the polo field out back. I would help out, like with gelding a horse. I tried to learn everything about racing. I watched and listened and got advice. With the track surface, if they did something and it didn't work out, you would try to figure out why. Bob Moore, [Hollywood Park track superintendent] Dennis Moore's dad, was the track superintendent in 1981. We were working for Marje Everett. Bob had a heart attack and had to leave, and I took over. I did it for two weeks before Marje called and said, 'Where's Bob?' I said he retired. She said can you come to the office. I said, 'I've got to work on the track, I'll see you when I can.' "
How has the job changed over the years? "There's more technology. A lot more. In the old days, we were like farmers. You'd pick up the soil, feel it, smell it, and go on with it. There's different technology now. We have a GPS blade. We can blade off the surface with GPS. In the old days, it was just sight and feel. I still go back to the old days. I have to feel the soil, do more personal work with the track. I try to combine the old with the new. It works for me, whether it's synthetic or dirt."
Do you prefer working with a natural dirt surface or a synthetic surface? "They're two different animals. Synthetic, you baby-sit. It's temperature sensitive. We had to deal with more uncommon things here at Santa Anita with drainage. A lot of other people learned from what went on here. We have meetings around the country with track superintendents, and they'd put me up on a podium and fire questions because I was going through the worst of the worst because of the drainage. But we had two good Breeders' Cups with them. I thought it was pretty safe. We didn't have a lot of catastrophic accidents. Dirt, except for rain, it's standard procedure, what you've learned over the years. You try to keep it as close as you can to yesterday. If you keep dirt consistent, you'll have way fewer breakdowns. With synthetics, you're constantly watching the temperature."
Are you happy with how Santa Anita's track has performed so far? "I am. It's a new surface, and it had to be tweaked. We didn't know how it would react until it rained, and we got rain, 15 1/2 inches. It was crazy here. Trying to deal with that and make sure it stayed together was quite an ordeal. [Surface consultant] Ted Malloy and I were up until 1 in the morning to make sure it was trainable. We shut down a few days for training because it got so much water we felt it could have been unsafe. Since it was new, we didn't know what the outcome would be, but I think we got it pretty good. Right now, it's a good surface. We're still tweaking the silt and clay. But I love the way the horses glide over this track."
Do you think the track surface got fast as a result of the rain, or is technology such that a new surface can have optimum results for producing fast times and having a safe cushion? "I do think you can have a fast track that is safe. We've got a track here that has real good bounce. This track is safe. Horses are coming off it good. I check with the vets and the hospitals, and I'm getting good reports. The trainers all seem to be happy. They're running fast times, but they're coming off good. I'm not fond of fast times. When we had that one day when they went six furlongs in 1:06 and change, that was scary. I want them where they are gliding over it and not getting hurt. I don't worry about time. It only means something if you are in jail."
What do you think is the biggest misconception bettors have about a track superintendent? "That we manipulate the track for carryovers and all these crazy things. That is so far off it's unbelievable. When I did a Quarter Horse track, you had to make sure the 1 hole was the same as the 10 hole. I try to keep this track fair, with no bias. Sometimes you have to blade the inside, because there's a buildup under the rail. People think we manipulate the track or we don't care. Believe me, we care. Ask any trainer how many they have in their barn. It's anywhere from 15 to 44 horses. Well, as far as I'm concerned, I've got 1,500 in my barn. I've got to worry about every one. I try to make it as safe as we can for the riders and the horses."
Do you feel, as with being a starter or a steward, that track superintendent ranks among the most thankless jobs at the racetrack? "This is a thankless job. To quote a friend of mine, we are like a skunk at a lawn party. No one wants anything to do with us. You can't please everyone. We know that. Everyone has their own agenda. You get all this feedback. You have to be like a duck and let it wash off your back."
You seem to retain your good humor through all the ups and downs: "I've been that way most of my life. I've always had a good sense of humor. My crew has to have a good attitude. I can teach them anything, but they can't have a bad attitude. If I have a bad day and I show it, it shows weakness. My crew will feel it. They won't have confidence in me. No matter what happens, I have to put on a façade."
Best horse seen? "Zenyatta, by far. I liked Spectacular Bid. He was a great horse. There's been so many, it's hard to define one or the other. But Zenyatta, beyond a doubt, she's everyone's favorite. She was the best thing that happened to racing. We need more superstars."
Hobbies? "I live in Manhattan Beach. I'm kind of a beach rat. I bike ride and enjoy the sun. I like football, and I love basketball. My best friend, Frank Brickowski, is a player rep for the NBA players' association, so I've met a lot of players. When he was playing for the Lakers, he moved in next to me in Manhattan Beach. His mother got sick, and he shipped her out here from New York, and when he was out of town, I would take care of her and help her out. I became very close to that family. When he played in Seattle, he knew Dr. Mark Dedomenico and later introduced me to him, which is how I came to put in the track for him at his training center, Pegasus."
Future ambitions? "I don't know how long I want to work year-round. I'm looking to retire so I can travel with my wife. I may go back to consulting. No matter what, I will stay close to this business. I love this business."