Steward Pete Pedersen Goes Out In Sunset

(from Hollywood Park notes)
Pete Pedersen, the senior steward at Hollywood Park, will officiate for the final time on Sunday before calling it a career at age 85.

"I don't know what I'll feel like," said Pedersen this week of his finale before adding with his self-deprecating sense of humor, "I'm amazed it didn't happen sooner."

Pedersen will leave the sport as one of the great role models of his profession and be honored with a special ceremony at Hollywood Park between races during the final meet program, which is highlighted by the Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT).

Pedersen is one of only two stewards to earn an Eclipse Award of Merit.

It has been a fulfilling road for the lanky Seattle native who once rowed for the University of Washington national champion eight-oared crew in 1942. He fell in love with the horseracing after Longacres opened in 1933. He cashed his first check in the press box there as a teletype operator for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1939.

Born on the Fourth of July, Pedersen had stints as a publicist, turf writer, handicapper, and racing official at West Coast tracks from Seattle to San Diego. His first job as a racing official was at Longacres in 1948, and his first year as a steward at Hollywood Park was in 1979.

In between, he spent several years as a turf writer and handicapper, recalling assignments from Los Angeles Times sports editor Paul Zimmerman and the vicissitudes of "Pete's Picks" during the 1950s.

Pedersen officiated over all six Breeders' Cups run at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. None is better remembered than the 1984 inaugural here. "We had two disqualifications," said Pedersen, noting that the disqualification of first-place finisher Fran's Valentine in the Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) to tenth was easy because it was so flagrant.

The long inquiry following the Classic was another story after Wild Again on the inside, Gate Dancer on the outside, and Slew O'Gold between horses hit the wire in a photo finish after a rough stretch run. Slew O'Gold seemed to get the worst of it.

"It was a question of whether the horse on the inside coming out or the horse on the outside coming in and tipping him was responsible, and we ruled the outside horse caused it," said Pedersen, leaving the winner alone and disqualifying Gate Dancer from second to third.

"The next morning we held a press conference in the film room to review it, and there must have been 100 media members there," said Pedersen. "Jack Van Berg (trainer of Gate Dancer) walked in and said, 'The stewards made the right decision,' in front of the press corps. That took the heat off."

Pedersen will tell you about the remarkable changes in the sport during the past 20 years, from growing litigation to the expansion of simulcasting, that have reduced the power and increased the work load of stewards. But Pedersen will take a look at the big picture and tell you he is the luckiest man in the world.

Pedersen, who lives in Arcadia, said he has not yet formulated plans beyond Sunday but does hope to visit Seattle in August to see the Longacres Mile (gr. III) at Emerald Downs.

"Another thing I'm going to do is go through my closet and open a used-tie lot," he said.