New York-based Carlos Martin is a third-generation horseman looking to add to his family’s legacy when he sends Come Dancing into a highly anticipated matchup with brilliant 3-year-old Covfefe in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.
Martin’s grandfather, Frank “Pancho” Martin, left his native Cuba to build an outstanding training career in the United States that led to his induction into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1981. “Pancho” is best known for conditioning Sham, runner-up to Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Martin’s father, Jose, trained three champions, including speedster Groovy, who was a beaten favorite in the Sprint at Santa Anita in 1986 and again missed as the top choice in the Sprint at old Hollywood Park in 1987.
Martin, 50, assisted his father with Groovy. He still carries the sting of those defeats with him as he prepares Come Dancing, a 5-year-old mare who earned fees-paid entry into the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint by winning the Aug. 24 Ketel One Ballerina Stakes at seven furlongs at Saratoga Race Course.
Martin is sharing his thoughts with followers of America’s Best Race in a two-part diary written with Tom Pedulla. Here is the second installment:
I am back in California at the Breeders’ Cup for the first time since my dad sent me ahead of him with Groovy in 1987. That turned out to be a bittersweet experience.
Groovy was a terrific sprinter that had gone undefeated before the Breeders’ Cup. He had a chance to be Horse of the Year if he won the Sprint, and we figured it was his race to lose. Very Subtle was a great filly that got the jump on him and beat him.
I took the loss hard. I was still sulking in the hotel room two days later. I will never forget how upset my dad got with me. “Get out of the room, get back to work and stop crying about it,” he said.
That experience taught me so much about racing. It is a game of highs and lows. Like in any business, only the strong survive. I have had more losses and disappointments through the years as well as many highlights, but I always remember the words of my dad.
I put my head down and keep working.
Come Dancing needed a lot of work, but I am so proud of her that she has gotten to the point of being one of the horses to beat in the Filly and Mare Sprint. She fractured a pastern when she was 2 years old, and it took more than a year for her to come back to the races. I will always be grateful to Marc Holliday of Blue Devil Racing Stables for giving us the time we needed to get her back right.
Thanks to his patience and a lot of hard work, Come Dancing really came into her own as a 5-year-old. She has won four of five races, all of them graded stakes. In her only loss, when she was second to Midnight Bisou in the Ogden Phipps Stakes, she stumbled at the break and that really cost her.
Before the draw for the Filly and Mare Sprint, I told Marc I wanted post five. He said he wanted the same post. We got four, so we’re not going to complain. Covfefe drew the rail. From that position, they are going to have one strategy. They have got to go. If she is the champion everybody says she is, maybe she will run us and everybody else off our feet.
But I have a lot of confidence in Come Dancing and so does my jockey, Javier Castellano. We want to make sure Come Dancing runs her race and really cannot worry about everyone else.
The biggest pressure I felt in all of this was doing everything possible to make sure Come Dancing handled the flight from New York as well as she could. She had never flown before. She has a lot of class and she handled everything well.
I do not feel any pressure at this point because Come Dancing could not be doing better than she is doing now. She is thriving. I hope my dad and grandfather are looking down and feel proud.
I went back and forth about whether to give her a prep race in the Gallant Bloom, a Grade 2, 6 1/2-furlong race on Sept. 22 at Belmont Park. I went back with the team and we researched it a bit and decided to go that route.
I am so glad we did. She won the Gallant Bloom easily and came out of the race very well. It really sharpened her. She is training sensationally. Her three works since then were exactly what I wanted.
I know this race can be important to me in improving the quality of my stable. Even though I come from a family of trainers, things are very different now. Right now, it seems as though four or five trainers control all of the top horses.
We win a lot of races at Aqueduct during the winter and we win a lot of races for New York-breds. But to get owners to give you top horses, you need to win at the Breeders’ Cup. It sounds strange to say when you are 50 years old, but even getting to the Breeders’ Cup puts you on a different level because you are measured by championship races. This is our World Series and our Super Bowl.
Most fans here think Covfefe will win. I think she has to step up her game. Come Dancing is a 5-year-old and, with her physicality, it’s a different ballgame than what Covfefe is used to.
For me, I don’t know if this is so much about coming to avenge the Breeders’ Cup losses my dad had with Groovy. I would like to think it is more about making our own history.