By Pete Pedersen
Today I'm beginning to forget yesterday, but as a retired racing official, I cannot forget the language of the racetrack through the ages:A tack room lothario was brought before the stewards. He was accused of predatory prowls which kept neighbors awake all night."Judge, there's nothin' shakin' but the bacon."
One of a score of nosy landlords along my trail on the Oregon short line from Caliente to Canada insisted on knowing my profession before he would rent. I said I was a junior official working for the stewards."Now I get it. But are you a cook or a waiter?"
The Northern California fair circuit increased its purse payments to eight monies. A trainer, eternally optimistic, was asked how his horse ran in a 10-horse field."Great. Got beat a head and a neck for a check."
Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg's rejoinder when asked the condition of his champion Alysheba:"His legs are as cold as a steward's heart."
A trainer applicant from the leaky roof circuit paused when asked where a horse should finish a half-mile workout if he broke from the three-eighths pole on a one-mile track."Judge, where I come from, we work our horses from the outhouse to the ferris wheel."
Early advice from a mentor, judge George Schilling:"As a steward, you'll have no need to second guess yourself. Thousands will do it for you."
Trainer Bill Heaton and his wife went to dinner at Del Mar's priciest restaurant. While waiting to be seated, Heaton studied the menu at length. When the maitre d' motioned them to their table, Heaton said:"I was planning to claim a horse tomorrow. After checking your menu, I can either eat here or claim the horse. Not both. I opt for the horse. Thank you and good evening."
Chick Utterback, a hell-for-leather horseman, was fined by the stewards for violating a new rule. He had failed to wear a safety helmet while ponying horses. Apprised of the penalty, Chick shifted his chaw of tobacco from one side to the other, then sputtered:"If I had known that ponying horses was so dangerous, I'd never given up bull riding."
The stewards at Vallejo on the Northern California fair circuit phoned the mutuel department in the morning to scratch a horse named "Don'tmentionit."That afternoon as the field in that race headed to the starting gate, the horse's number was still on the tote board.The stewards and a livid mutuel manager sought out what went wrong. The culprit who handled scratches was located. He said:"Yes, the stewards called this morning about the scratch, but they told me not to mention it."
Popular restaurateur Abe Hirschberg, who owned good horses (Bolero and Dinner Gong, for two), sobbed something fierce to the press corps about the excessive weight one of his horses was assigned for the Bay Meadows Handicap."You're not going to run him with that weight?" he was asked.Abe replied: "Not run him? Of course I'm going to run him. Vat do you think he is? A vatchdog?"
Jack Shettlesworth, then editor of the California Thoroughbred magazine, slowly digested my announcement at a late night session at Arcadia's Derby restaurant that I was accepting an opportunity offered by Santa Anita's storied director of racing, Carleton Burke, to become a junior racing official."No more boozing and gambling and all-night sessions," I said.After a long pause, Shettlesworth replied:"Pete, you have just resigned from the human race."