One by one jockeys walked up the staircase leading to the jock’s room in the basement of Belmont Park to congratulate one of their fellow riders walking down shortly after the $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational Stakes Friday at Belmont Park.
They’d gotten to know Eduardo Pedroza all day in the room. The rest of America – the fans that turned out on a beautiful spring afternoon and thousands more watching from home – got to know him after he rode Red Cardinal to victory in the 2-mile marathon on the grass. Pedroza delivered a flawless ride aboard the 5-year-old Irish-bred son of Montjeu, winning the Grade 3 stakes by a neck over St Michel with Now We Can third and Clondaw Warrior four to complete an all-European superfecta.
A few hours before as those same fans checked out the past performances for the races that made up the middle day of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival they saw the name, a couple dashes next to his name signifying no mounts at the current meet and for the year in North America, and saw he’d ridden Red Cardinal to victory in a Group 2 stakes in Germany.
That’s about it.
“I was born in Panama but work in Germany,” Pedroza said walking back to the room after celebrating Red Cardinal’s victory with trainer Andreas Wohler and representatives of winning owner Australian Bloodstock.
Pedroza, 42, indeed started his career in his native country, the same nation that produced racing legends Laffit Pincay Jr., Manny Ycaza, Braulio Baeza, Jorge Velasquez and Jacinto Vasquet along with several top members of the current NYRA riding colony.
Pedroza rode for almost two years before heading overseas to being his career in Germany, where he now rides primarily for Wohler out of his yard in Gutersloh. He’s ridden all over the world, in Germany, England, France and Italy to Japan, Hong Kong, Dubai, South Africa and Australia and even in lesser-known racing nations like Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Turkey, Denmark and Bahrain.
Friday’s Gold Cup, a race inaugurated in 2014 in an attempt to bring some European interest to the weekend, marked Pedroza’s first trip to Belmont Park. He’d ridden five times without a victory at three other North American tracks – Keeneland, Woodbine and Arlington Park. He rode at the latter most recently in 2015, riding Lacy to a seventh in the Grade 1 Beverly D. and Wake Forest to a sixth in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.
The mount on Wake Forest, who now races in the U.S. with Chad Brown, was for Wohler and Pedroza hopes to make more trips across the Atlantic Ocean this year for Germany’s leading trainer.
“We hope to come a little bit more this year,” Pedroza said. “I think we have more horses for the U.S.A. and I hope I am the rider.”
Wohler, who won the 2001 Arlington Million with Silvano and who’s many stakes victories around the world including the Melbourne Cup, will run Potemkin in Saturday’s Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan. The fans that got a chance to know Pedroza Friday won’t get the chance to see him in the saddle aboard the 6-year-old German-bred son of New Approach, however.
“Unfortunately tomorrow I am suspended so I can’t ride that one in the Manhattan,” Pedroza said, referring to a suspension carried over from a riding infraction overseas.
Pedroza was able to ride Friday and settled Red Cardinal in the middle of the 12-horse field for the Gold Cup in the early stages while Roman Approval, a $62,500 claim by David Cannizzo last time out set the early pace on an extended lead through a strong 6 furlongs in 1:14 and mile in 1:40.88.
Pedroza still managed to find cover for Red Cardinal, which he says the gelding prefers, and raced in seventh with a half-mile to run. He purposely didn’t want to produce Red Cardinal too early, knowing from riding the horse back home that he tends to idle when he makes the front, so he didn’t make the lead until inside the eighth pole.
“My plan was to go in the middle of the field, to get some cover behind horses. He goes very relaxed there,” Pedroza said. “He’s a horse when you get to the front too early he looks a little bit, you know? I have to wait on him a little bit more. I need to wait for the last move. I asked him one time, he come, but I said, ‘wait a little bit more.’ The second time he went very easily to the front.”
Red Cardinal was the second of two consecutive Irish-bred winners on Friday’s card, following Hawksmoor in the Grade 2 New York. Making her fourth start in the U.S. and third for trainer Arnaud Delacour, Hawksmoor and jockey Julien Leparoux took the field all the way on the lead and held off Quidura to win by 1 length. Hawksmoor, winner of the Grade 3 Beaugay in similar style, went off at nearly 12-1 and triggered a Fair Hill-based exacta that returned $149.
Hawksmoor benefited significantly from the scratch of Churchill allowance winner Sassy Little Lila, who will run in Saturday’s Grade 1 Just A Game for trainer Brad Cox. Delacour found out about the scratch Friday morning during training hours at Fair Hill, liked the news he heard and even chatted with Quidura’s trainer Graham Motion about any change in strategy.
“I was the one who told him the speed was gone, from the outside, and I asked him, ‘what are you going to tell your jockey?’ He said nothing. I said the same thing,” Delacour said as he trekked through the tunnel to catch the replay.
The replay not only showed a similar race to Hawksmoor’s victory last time but her close third in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes when she was trained by Hugo Palmer before owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson transferred the daughter of Azamour to Delacour.
“She’s always run very well close,” Delacour said. “In the Queen Elizabeth, I think they went a half in 47 and change going a mile and an eighth and you know at Keeneland, you can close from off the pace. So the fact that she got beat almost nothing was very encouraging. She obviously has tactical speed.”
Friday notes: The New York Racing Association didn’t release an attendance figure for Friday’s card but did note that handle for the first two days of the Festival “increased significantly” over last year. On-track handle for Thursday and Friday rose 18 percent to $4.13 million, while total handle for the two days rose 32 percent to $31.07 million. … Sagamore Farm’s He Hate Me, named for Rod Smart of the defunct XFL, kicked off the stakes action Friday with a victory in the $150,000 Tremont for 2-year-olds. The son of Algorithms won the 5 1/2-furlong stakes by 3 1/4 lengths on two weeks rest after breaking his maiden May 26 at Pimlico for trainer Horacio DePaz. … California shipper Roy H upset the field and won his stakes debut in the Grade 2 True North. The 5-year-old son of More Than Ready defeated Stallwalkin’ Dude by 2 ½ lengths with 6/5 favorite Whitmore third in his first loss sprinting. Trained by Peter Miller, Roy H came in off back-to-back allowance victories at Santa Anita Park. … By The Moon closed the stakes action and the card with a three-quarter-length victory over Mia Torri in the Grade 3 Bed o’ Roses Invitational for Jay Em Ess Stable and trainer Michelle Nevin. The 5-year-old Indian Charlie mare also won last year’s Bed o’ Roses, when it was in late June before being moved to the Festival.