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 on 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 National Museum of Racing’s 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 that 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. The Ballerina represented Martin’s his first Grade 1 triumph since Buy the Firm took the Top Flight Handicap in 1991 for the then 21-year-old trainer, at that time making him the youngest conditioner in North America to produce a Grade 1 winner.
Martin agreed to share his thoughts with followers of America’s Best Race in a two-part diary written with Tom Pedulla. Here is the first installment:
I consider myself so fortunate to have the family background in racing that I do. My grandfather and father have a lot to do with getting me to this point in my career.
From my grandfather, I learned the importance of dedication and hard work. He would start his day with coffee and tea and be at the barn at 4:45 a.m. every day like clockwork. He would not return home until 7 or 8 at night. He was dedicated to his horses until the day he died.
From my father, I learned patience and the need to let the horse tell you what it needs. He always put the horse first and believed the rewards would follow.
He did that with Noble Nashua in 1980. There was a lot of excitement ahead of Noble Nashua’s debut as a 2-year-old for Flying Zee Stable, owned by Carl Lizza. Mr. Lizza was so excited ahead of the race that he invited 100 or so guests.
But Noble Nashua pulled a muscle a few days before the race and my father did not want to run him unless he was 100 percent. Mr. Lizza was disappointed and upset. I can still hear him asking my father, “What do you mean the horse is not running? What do you mean?”
My father stood his ground. “You can still bring 100 guests to the track, you can still have a great lunch and the champagne is on me,” he told Mr. Lizza. “But the horse is not running, period.”
My father and Mr. Lizza celebrated the following year when Noble Nashua rewarded them with a victory in the Marlboro Cup as a 3-year-old.
I owe a lot of the success we have had with Come Dancing to her owner, Marc Holliday of Blue Devil Racing Stable. Although she was always a beautiful filly, Marc realized she would never sell for what he thought she was worth because she was a bit crooked in her right front leg from the knee down. So he gave her to me to train.
Come Dancing got off to a great start in November of her 2-year-old year when she won her debut by 3 ½ lengths and really looked like she could be something special. But she suffered a fractured pastern that needed three screws to repair.
Another owner probably would have retired her at that point to become a broodmare. She is well bred, by Malibu Moon. Her dam, Tizahit, is by Tiznow, the only two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Marc decided to bring her back to the races if her recuperation went well, which it did. We worked on her for more than a year, but she showed she still had the talent we always knew was there by winning her first start back, an allowance race at Aqueduct in December of her 3-year-old year.
It’s always been a matter of getting everything to come to hand with her. That finally happened this year. She has competed at the highest levels and won 4 of 5 starts. The one time she did not win, she still ran a big race to finish second to Midnight Bisou in the Ogden Phipps Stakes in June. She has earned almost $800,000 this year to go over $1 million in career earnings.
Allen Jerkens used to say that racing is 80 percent about the horse, 10 percent about the trainer and 10 percent about the jockey. As we prepare for the Filly and Mare Sprint, I know I have done everything I can to have Come Dancing ready for the big day. Javier Castellano, a Hall of Famer, will do everything possible to give her the best possible ride.
And I definitely know I have the horse.