Mike Pegram is quick with a joke when his horses win, but the owner said he felt very humbled when the Southern California racing industry turned out to honor him and his wife, Mary Ellen.
The occasion was the annual benefit dinner for the Gregson Foundation April 13 in Pasadena. The funds raised go toward providing college scholarships for children of backstretch workers, and based on Pegram’s past performances, helping kids was all it took to get him on board.
“He’s a gentleman who does things simply because it’s the right thing to do,” said Lee Heriaud, a colleague of Pegram’s in the McDonald’s franchise business. “We just finished building a beautiful new Ronald McDonald house near the Children’s Hospital in Phoenix, with a lot of effort by Mike to raise the funds.”
Even trainer Bob Baffert got serious—if only for a moment—in speaking of Pegram, for whom Baffert has won numerous races, including the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) with Real Quiet.
“You have to have three things to be successful,” said Baffert. “You have to have the passion for the sport, the bankroll, and the stomach to stick with it. That’s what Mike Pegram has brought along. Every time I got down, he lifted me right back up.”
Baffert said he once asked Pegram why the owner had chosen him to train his horses. “Mike said, ‘I realized that you’re going to lose more than you win, so I wanted to be with somebody to have fun with,’ ” Baffert told the crowd. “Nobody’s had more fun than Mike Pegram and Bob Baffert in this business.”
Racecaller Frank Mirahmadi, who specializes in impersonations, put together a fictitious Mike Pegram Invitational of Pegram’s best stakes horses. In the voices of Quarter Horse announcer Ed Burgart and Thoroughbred callers Dave Johnson, Mike Battaglia, and Trevor Denman, Mirahmadi brought the horses down to the wire, mimicking Rodney Daingerfield in finishing the race, in which Silverbulletday edged out Real Quiet, with Midnight Lute third. Denman, who emceed the dinner, stood behind Mirahmadi, laughing as he enjoyed the parody.
Brad McKenzie, who has known Baffert from his Quarter Horse days, had fun roasting Pegram during the dinner. “I tried to talk him into buying into Los Alamitos to run Thoroughbred racing, and he hasn’t spoken to me since,” McKenzie said.
He also recalled the night Real Quiet won the Kentucky Derby.
“We wanted to stay up till 2 a.m.,” McKenzie said. “We were staying at the Executive West, so it cost like 25 bucks to get the band to stay another four hours. About 5:30 in the morning, we’re still going strong, but we’ve lost Mike.”
McKenzie and his friends found Pegram in the hotel parking lot, sitting on the hood of his car with a six-pack of beer. “He just looked at us, and he said, ‘Boys, I just don’t ever want this day to end.’ ”