Standing less than 5 feet tall and training a one-horse stable, Pete Anderson is literally and figuratively the little guy. The thing is, he's having a giant of a year.
At age 75 and in his 60th year in the sport, the former jockey is in the midst of a season he describes as one of the most rewarding and enjoyable times he has ever spent on the racetrack. It helps that his one horse is a very good horse.
Delightful Kiss probably won't win a championship or a Breeders' Cup race. He didn't even have enough in earnings to make the Kentucky Derby field. But he is the type of horse that every trainer loves to have in the barn, an honest, consistent sort who wins races and makes money. And lately, he's been on a little bit of a tear, winning the Ohio and Iowa derbies while increasing his 2007 earnings to $446,487.
"What more could I ask for in life?" Anderson said. "I'm 75 and I feel like I'm 45. This has been one of the real enjoyable experiences of my life. This is what all old racetrackers get up and look for everyday, to come up with a good horse. This happens to be a real good horse."
Anderson began riding in 1948 and was a steady winner over the next several years. He won the 1958 Belmont aboard Cavan and was aboard Forego when he finished fourth behind Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. Despite his diminutive size, he fought weight throughout his riding career and, tired of the battle, retired shortly after the 1973 Derby.
He began training and enjoyed modest success, usually training a dozen horses or more. In the late 90s, though, he walked away and was out of the sport for three years. He spent most of his time playing golf, but that started to grow old. He wanted back in. The problem was, who wants to employ a septuagenarian trainer who had been out of the game for three years?
Anderson never really did rebuild his stable. He was down to three horses at the start of the 2006 Gulfstream meet and one of them was about to be retired. He reached out to longtime friend Allen Jerkens, who trains the majority of the horses for Hobeau Farm, and asked for his help. Jerkens told Hobeau to send Anderson a horse, any horse. The horse turned out to be a then-unraced 2-year-old named Delightful Kiss.
With injuries further depleting Anderson's already tiny stable, by April, he was down to just Delightful Kiss.
"I can't say I expected to get a good horse," Anderson said. "I was getting an untried 2-year-old and got him in May. Sometimes you can tell something about them that early, but the majority of the times when they just come off the farm nobody knows how good they are. They just sent me another horse."
Delightful Kiss, a gray gelding by Kissin Kris was 1-for-5 during his 2-year-old campaign and then appeared to be in over his head at 3 when trying races like the Tampa Bay Derby and the Arkansas Derby. Still, Anderson hoped to run him in the Kentucky Derby.
"I'd have loved to have been in the Derby," said Anderson, who rode in two Derbies. "It's something everybody dreams of. Not making it was a great disappointment."
Unable to get a berth in this year's Derby field, Anderson ran Delightful Kiss the day before in the American Turf, where he finished ninth. It didn't appear that the gelding would make it as a stakes horse, but Anderson never lost confidence in him.
He entered him in the Ohio Derby and Delightful Kiss came through with a 3 ½-length win at odds of 24-1. Forty-three years earlier, Anderson won the Ohio Derby as a jockey on a horse named National.
Next up was the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. The competition included horses from some of the biggest and most powerful stables in the country, including the barns of D. Wayne Lukas, Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher and Doug O'Neill. Proving that the Ohio Derby was no fluke, he won again, this time by 1 ¼ lengths.
Delightful Kiss will either run next in the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park or in the Haskell at Monmouth. The Haskell could include Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and Preakness winner Curlin, but Anderson isn't afraid of them or anyone else.
"If I choose to go against those horses (in the Haskell), they'll know he was in there," Anderson said. "He'll give a good account of himself. I'm trying to win, like I've been doing. The program I have with him is to try to win. I'm not trying to prove anything."
Win or lose, Anderson, will continue to enjoy the ride. To him, this is his retirement, with a little extra fun on the side.
"It's a hell of a great time for me," he said.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.