Sunday, February 2, 2014

Brian Pedroza, Jockey

 His father, Martin Pedroza, has been a fixture at southern California tracks since 1983, winning dozens of major stakes races and still going strong at 48, with 3,606 victories and counting. His mother, known as Kimberly Davis when she rode races, has been an exercise rider in Ocala for as long as he can remember. So guess what Brian Pedroza didn’t want to do when he was a kid? “When I was 14, I had little or no interest in horse racing,” recalls 22-year-old Brian, tied for eighth in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings with 11 victories. “My mom and dad would come home with injuries – they both shattered their pelvises in accidents – and I didn’t want to be like that.” It wasn’t until he turned 18 and started cleaning stalls for his stepfather, who was a pinhooker in Ocala, that Brian – who is closer to his mother’s height of 4-feet 11 than his father’s 5-4 stature – realized he needed to find out if he had inherited any of their ability. Despite suffering a knee injury that caused him to miss five months in 2010 and a rough stretch at Tampa Bay Downs two seasons ago, Brian has come to believe he may have found his calling. And he’s not the only one. “Brian is a natural,” said trainer Dennis Ward, the father of 1984 Eclipse Award Outstanding Apprentice Jockey and current trainer Wesley Ward. “He gets them in the right spot, and a lot of horses just run off the screen for him.” Brian’s cousin Marcelino Pedroza, currently at Fair Grounds, is also a jockey. Brian has a brother Tyler, 18, and a sister Mya, 4. Brian, who rode four winners in two days recently, revealed his feelings about the sport and his future in the latest installment of the track’s “Racing In The Sunshine” profile series.

I HAVEN’T SEEN MY DAD IN SEVERAL YEARS, but he’ll still call to tell me I need to lower my irons or go to the left-hand stick about the eighth pole, surprise the horse and get a little more run down the stretch, things like that. I don’t like not seeing him, but I know he is watching me and that means a lot. I’ve always lived in Ocala, but from the time I was 4 until I was 16 I spent every summer with him and would go to California to live with him on Christmas break. I would like to ride against him, but I need a lot more experience to ride with those boys in California.

HAVING SOMEONE LIKE DENNIS WARD IN MY CORNER is like having a second father, in some ways. He puts me on live horses and doesn’t really put any pressure on me. I know if I mess up, I’m not going to get fired or yelled at. That makes it so much easier to go out and relax and do what I need to do. Sometimes owners and trainers forget that a jockey feels worse than anyone when they mess up, and being young, I’ve had problems in the past dealing with being yelled at. I’m learning to bite my tongue, accept constructive criticism and take the other kind with a grain of salt.

SPEAKING OF OLDER GUYS WHO ARE GOOD INFLUENCES, I have to give credit to my agent, Cash Stodghill. His grandfather, Jason Coyote (nee Stodghill), was the leading trainer here in 1993-94, and I guess a lot of his good sense rubbed off on Cash. He was a year ahead of me at West Port High School in Ocala, and when we learned we each had a connection to Thoroughbreds, something clicked. When we won four last week, we celebrated by going to dinner at Bonefish Grill with my mom and my little sister, Mya. On off-days, we like to go fishing or just hang out. Cash and I are kind of learning the ropes together, and I think we’re a pretty good team.

MY MOTHER, KIM, WASN’T A JOCKEY VERY LONG, but she is still active in Ocala. She has been a tremendous influence and I always know I can go to her for advice. Here’s her biggest claim to fame (besides having me): She was the exercise rider when The Green Monkey worked an eighth of a mile in 9 4/5 seconds at Calder in 2006, which led to him being purchased at the sale for $16-million. I remember being in our garage with my stepdad, who was on the phone with my mom, and she was telling him “The bidding is up to $10-million; it’s up to $11-million.” It was just unbelievable. Honestly, I don’t know how much my mom’s cut from the $16-million was.

I BELIEVE I HAVE A KNACK FOR MAKING A HORSE RELAX, which is a big key to winning races. It comes from having good hands and being light on their mouth. I feel that I’m strong on turf, and I know how to judge the pace of a race. I always have a vision of how a race is likely to unfold, and I try to put myself in the right spots so I have a chance to win when the time comes to move. I study the program and I usually have at least five other horses in my head that I know to keep an eye on the whole time. If I have the 6-5 favorite on my outside, I don’t want to let him get away from me; I want to move at the same time. And I watch replays like crazy. Not just watching myself, but what other people are doing.

AS A JOCKEY, MY HANDS ARE MY MAIN TOOLS. They’re what I do most of the work with, how I communicate with a horse. A big thing I had to learn starting out is that all horses are different, like people, and they have their own personalities. Some are tougher than others, and you can tell the tough ones if they start biting that bit or tugging you just walking to the track. You don’t want to get to fighting them, because you’re always going to be the loser.

I HAVEN’T BEEN TO THE PENTHOUSE YET, BUT I KNOW you can go to the outhouse in a hurry. I was having a great meeting at Delaware a few years ago when my saddle slipped and I fell during a morning workout and wrecked my knee, and I was out five months. I have seven screws and a metal plate in there. At Aqueduct I went down a couple of times and had cracked ribs and a bruised femur. And a couple of years ago here, my business slowed down so much I decided to go back to Ocala and work at the sales because the money was better. But nothing beats the excitement of competing at the track.

I WEIGH 112 POUNDS, AND I’VE NEVER HAD TO REDUCE in my life. I can eat anything I want and not gain any weight. I think not having to get in the box to shed pounds gives me an edge physically, because I’m going out there as strong as I can be. It takes a lot out of a rider when he has to lose 5 pounds in a couple of hours.

NOT TO SEEM OVERLY CONFIDENT, but I think I’m as competitive and as good a rider as anybody here. Obviously, I don’t have the experience of Daniel Centeno or Ronnie Allen, Jr., and I don’t want to say I’m better than them, because they are really good riders. But I think if I keep getting the opportunities, I’ll be able to show everyone what I can do. You just have to come out every day, let people know you’re here to work and ride hard.


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