02/28/2012 3:36PM

Santa Anita Handicap: Pedroza has his dream mount in Ultimate Eagle

Shigeki Kikkawa
Martin Pedroza rides Ultimate Eagle to victory in the Strub.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The veteran jockey Martin Pedroza can be described as durable, strong-willed, and very possessive.

Six times in the last year, Pedroza, 46, has been involved in a spill or unseated in a race in Southern California. He has missed a few mounts or a day to recover, but has escaped serious injury.

That good fortune has allowed Pedroza to enjoy one of the best spans of his career. In 2011, his mounts earned more than $5 million, the first time that had happened since 2006. The native of Panama is the regular rider of Ultimate Eagle, the three-time stakes winner who is a top contender for Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap.

Trained by Mike Pender, Ultimate Eagle is a horse that Pedroza describes as “the best horse I’ve ever ridden.” The jockey does not want anyone else aboard the 4-year-old – in races or workouts.

“If someone else worked him they could break the clock in the morning,” Pedroza said. "I told Mike, ‘I don’t want anyone else to work him.’ ”

:: WATCH THE BIG 'CAP LIVE ON DRF.COM - Saturday, March 3rd

Ultimate Eagle will be a dangerous horse in the Big Cap. Owned by B.J. Wright, Ultimate Eagle is most effective when allowed to race near the front. He led throughout to win the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby (at 34-1) and the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby (at 14-1) on turf last fall.

After a third to top turf miler Mr. Commons in the Grade 2 Sir Beaufort Stakes on turf on Dec. 26, Ultimate Eagle rebounded to win the Grade 2 Strub Stakes (at 7-1) over 1 1/8 miles, his first career start on a dirt track. Saturday’s Big Cap will be Ultimate Eagle’s first start over 1 1/4 miles on a dirt track and his stakes debut against older horses.

“I think he’s the speed of the speed,” Pedroza said. “If someone wants go to crazy and go with him, they won’t get far.”

Pedroza is well versed on how to win the Big Cap on a speedy horse. In 1989, at 23, he rode Martial Law to a 50-1 upset. Martial Law raced near the front throughout. It remains the only million-dollar win in Pedroza’s 31-year career.

Last weekend, when Santa Anita showed past runnings of the Big Cap on the in-house television network, Pedroza stopped to watch Martial Law’s race. “It gave me chills,” he said.

In 2011, Pedroza was third in the Big Cap on the 69-1 outsider Quindici Man, a mount he said is reflective of what he typically rides in the track’s top race for older horses.

“I usually get a chance with a longshot or a horse that comes open late,” he said. “It would be nice to win it again at this time in my career. I like my chances. He’ll be one of the choices.”

A winner of more than 3,430 races, and the father of the promising young Eastern-based rider Brian Pedroza, Martin Pedroza has won 13 consecutive riding titles at the Los Angeles County Fair meeting at Fairplex Park. His lone riding title at a major track occurred at the 2005 autumn meeting at Hollywood Park. Through Sunday, he ranked seventh at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting with 20 wins.

The fact he is even riding this winter is remarkable. In the last race on Jan. 14, Pedroza was unseated when his mount fell after clipping heels with a horse that drifted out. Pedroza and his mount, Teasing Bernie, were unhurt in the frightening spill.

On Feb. 10, when pulling up Oak Kye Why after a sprint on the hillside turf course, Pedroza was unseated when his mount stumbled. He took the rest of that day off.

“I go 40 miles per hour on a horse, I take a spill and I walk away,” he said. “I’m on the grass galloping out, he propped and I fall to the side. When I got up, I couldn’t walk.”

Pedroza had strained a lower back muscle, but returned to riding the next day. “The good Lord is looking after me,” he said.

Those scares make opportunities such as Saturday’s Big Cap on Ultimate Eagle even more meaningful.

“The first time I worked him I knew he was special,” Pedroza said. “He makes me really excited.”