Born on February 14, 1966, Mike Pender:
-Masters degree in Psychology from Pepperdine University
-Undergraduate BA in Psychology from University of California at Santa Barbara
-Resides in Arcadia with his wife and two children Meghan and Matt
-Recorded his first win as a trainer at Santa Anita on February 23, 2005 with Orange Em.
-Bought Polonius for $150,000 at the Barrett’s March sale. In June (three months later) in his first start, he was a stylish maiden winner in wire to wire fashion by six lengths. Offers were made up to 600k. Eight months later, as a three year old, Polonius won the Pasadena Stakes and was ranked among the top five 3 year olds in the country. Offers were made up to 2.5 million.
-Jeranimo was purchased for $70,000 at the Barrett’s May sale as a 2YO. He since amassed over $1,500,000 in earnings, captured two G1s, six G2 races and a 2nd place in a G1 all on synthetic and turf, competed in 3 Breeder’s Cups, and even won a G2 in 2014 at the age of 8.
-Purchased Ultimate Eagle for $70,000 at the Ocala 2 year old in training sale in March 2010. After a near death bout with colic as a 2YO, he came to the races as a 3YO in Mary 2011 with several subpar performances on a synthetic surface. “The Eagle” was then switched to turf, given blinkers and Martin Pedroza, and rattled off 4 victories – a maiden special and allowance race at Del Mar, then the G2 Oak Tree Derby and G1 Hollywood Derby. From debut to G1 winner in six months.
-Nominated and put on the ballot by his peers to fill a seat on the California Thoroughbred Trainers board.
Michael Van Pender only broke onto the Southern California horse racing scene in 2005. In what is considered one of the most competitive circuits in the world, Pender has done more with less in a very short time. Within two years, Pender set his mark by taking down the Pasadena Stakes, then quickly followed that with a win in the Grade 3 Will Rogers Handicap with three year old colt Polonius. His resume continued to build as he won the prestigious 2010 Grade 2 Strub Stakes and San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita with multiple graded stakes winning colt Jeranimo. But the fall of 2011 was big. It started with back-to-back weekend victories in October, Jeranimo won the G2 Oak Tree Mile, and Ultimate Eagle the G2 Oak Tree Derby. Jeranimo then went on to be Pender’s first Breeders Cup runner, as he competed and ran a close 7th in the BC Mile at Churchill Downs. As if all that was not enough for a 30-day span, a few weeks later, Thanksgiving weekend gave Pender and his team much to be thankful for. Jeranimo captured the G2 Citation Handicap on Saturday, and Ultimate Eagle captured his, Pender’s and Wright’s first Grade 1 race, winning the G1 Hollywood Derby on Sunday. He has had numerous other runners who have gone on to win races in the allowance and claiming ranks as well.
All of this has been done without fanfare, and under the radar, by a trainer who does not seek the limelight. Upon meeting Pender, most people say they could never place the name to the face.
Pender prides himself on working closely with his horses and owners. Nothing speaks louder than the relationship with his owner BJ Wright. Pender was coached by Wright during their earlier years, but college and different life paths caused them to drift apart. Yet after 25 years apart, their worlds reconnected at the racetrack. Wright observed Pender win his first race with a 10k claiming horse on February 23, 2005. Wright approached Pender and made him an offer: he would send him a studdish, unmanageable and ‘slow’ three year old colt from the farm. The promise: if Pender could train him and win with him, there would be others to follow. The name of the horse: “Benson Road” (named after the street BJ Wright grew up on in his hometown of Shelbyville, Kentucky). Benson Road won at Hollywood Park in his third lifetime start. And true to his word, he put up his money, went to the sales, and he and Pender went on to build a powerhouse team of runners.
Pender currently has a balanced stable of stakes horses and claimers for a variety of different owners with different needs; but his main focus has been on his efforts to purchase and develop two year olds. His greatest accomplishment has to be the fact that of all his purchases for Wright, not only has each horse made it to the races, but they have won-a rare feat. One of Pender’s milestones is setting a track record at Santa Anita. He wins at about a 10% clip with his sprinters , but his #’s double to over 20% with routers. As is the case with most trainers, it’s Pender’s goal to win a Kentucky Derby. In only 13 years, Pender has twice come within one race of achieving that goal (Polonius in the Santa Anita Derby; Jeranimo in the Coolmore Lexington).