I’ve been to lots of events at Santa Anita through the years. None was as emotional as Thursday’s second race, which featured Return of the King, a scrappy 7-year-old chestnut gelding with Martin Pedroza aboard.
The connections, Pedroza, trainer David Bernstein and family and friends who filled in for deceased owners Joseph, James and Charles Ortega, saw their horse glide to a come-from-behind victory. They shed tears of joy and sadness.
Jockey Martin Pedroza told me he thought he was guided by angels throughout the race.
Jockey Danny Sorenson told me that despite the competitive nature of the racing business, most of his peers wanted to see Pedroza win.
“It’s like Seabiscuit,” he said. “You want to root for the underdog.”
Here’s the top of Friday’s story:
ARCADIA – Tears freely flowed Thursday at Santa Anita when Return of the King stepped into the Winner’s Circle.
Friends and family members of Joseph, James and Charles Ortega had come to see their seven-year-old chestnut gelding race for perhaps the last time from the barn of trainer David Bernstein.
The three Ortegas were among nine family members slain at a Covina home on Christmas Eve by Bruce Pardo, the estranged husband of Joseph’s daughter Sylvia.
“This was special,” Bernstein said. “It was hard to keep from crying from the moment he left the paddock.”
Here’s the photo caption:
Jockey Martin Pedroza on Return of the King, center, owned by James
Ortega, takes the lead as they win the 2nd race at Santa Anita Park
Thursday, January 8, 2009 in Arcadia. The Ortega family was killed
during the Christmas Eve massacre in Covina. (SGVN/Staff Photo by