Buddies Martin Pedroza and Rene Douglas team up for the Malibu

From Ed Golden, Santa Anita Park press release:

Martin Pedroza and Rene Douglas have been friends for more than three decades.Natives of Panama, they attended jockey school there before migrating to the United States where they reached the upper echelon of their profession.

Douglas, a regular in Southern California before returning to the Chicago area where he was a six-time champion at Arlington Park, was paralyzed from the waist down in a tragic spill at that track on May 23, 2009.

Throughout his travails, Douglas maintained contact with Pedroza, who buoyed his spirits during bouts of depression, which diminished with time to the point that now Douglas is racing manager for the Good Friends Stable, which has Private Zone entered in the Grade I Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on opening day next Wednesday. The rider: Martin Pedroza.

“Rene and Martin not only grew up together, they went to jockey school in Panama,” said Pedroza’s long-time agent, Richie Silverstein. “They’ve remained best friends and Rene suggested to Doug (O’Neill, who trains Private Zone) that because of his relationship with Martin, he’d like to keep him on the horse.”

Pedroza has ridden Private Zone in four of the gelding’s five U.S. starts, finishing second the last two, beaten only a length last out in the Grade III Vernon Underwood at Betfair Hollywood Park on Dec. 2.

Douglas’ recovery has understandably been a work in progress.

“The first year and a half, he wouldn’t take phone calls, seemingly because he was depressed,” Silverstein said. “Now when I speak to him on the phone in Florida he seems in very good spirits. I know he goes to physical therapy every Saturday, but all in all, he’s sharp mentally and he knows his stuff.”

Added Pedroza: “It was rough in the beginning, but now I talk to him pretty much every day.”

As for Private Zone, who set the pace in his last two starts before he was overtaken in late stretch, Pedroza is optimistic, even though personally he’s coming off a forgettable Betfair Hollywood Park meet where he won only once from 68 mounts. He needs just one more victory to reach career milestone 3,500.

But right now, Pedroza’s focused on Private Zone. “I think he’s going to be all right,” Pedroza said.

The field for the Malibu, race eight of nine: Fed Biz, Mike Smith; Jimmy Creed, Garrett Gomez; Drill, Martin Garcia; The Lumber Guy, John Velazquez; Politicallycorrect, Joel Rosario; Basmati, Mario Gutierrez; Castaway, Joe Talamo; Private Zone, Pedroza; Guilt Trip, Rafael Bejarano; and Unbridled’s Note, Corey Nakatani.

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