by Claire Novak
Jockey Martin Pedroza wrapped up the first major riding title of his 23-year career when he piloted California-bred Young Luck to win the fourth race at Hollywood Park closing day Dec. 19. The 40-year-old Pedroza, who finished the 27-day meet with 31 wins, became the oldest first-time title winner in the track's 67-year history.
"It all comes down to one word--opportunity," said Richie Silverstein, the jockey's agent of 19 years. "We came into the meet with a lot of business, a lot of momentum, and he worked hard. This is something, in the back of his mind, he's wanted his whole career."
Pedroza, who finished second to Garrett Gomez (44-31) during this year's Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park meet, credits his agent's hard work and his own increased confidence with the win.
"Richie and I have been together for a long time--he's a great agent," Pedroza said. "I'm so overwhelmed to win this title, I don't know how to express it. I had a great year, I'm riding with so much confidence, and it pays off. Last night, I didn't sleep at all; I was looking at the Racing Form
and handicapping the races every possible way they could finish.
"When I went to work this morning, I had so much energy--I just knew it was going to happen. I've ridden some great horses for some great people this season."
Other than earning the riding title, Pedroza said the highlight of his meet was winning the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) aboard Star Parade Dec. 11. "I was very thankful for (trainer Darrell Vienna) giving me the opportunity to ride (the filly)," Pedroza said. "I was very impressed with the way she ran."
The jockey also benefited from a controversial ruling in the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes Nov. 26 when Hollywood Park stewards disqualified Bob and John, winner by six lengths under jockey Victor Espinosa, for midstretch interference against third-place finisher Kissin Knight and jockey Patrick Valenzuela. The decision moved Bob and John to third and brought Pedroza's mount, Genre (not involved in the review but second by a nose in front of Kissin Knight), into the winner's circle.
"That just goes to show you a case where you can ride very hard for second, and it pays off," Pedroza said. "I was just trying to beat the horse to place, but when I looked at the inquiry sign, I said, 'What do you know, looks like I've got a chance to win this thing!'"
A native of Panama, Pedroza holds the record as all-time leading rider at Fairplex Park, with 457 wins and eight riding titles to his credit. In 2005, he shattered the Fairplex records by riding 51 winners in 17 days.