Catching up with Victor Martinez at OBS, success keeps ex-MLB slugger humble.
It was in April of 2019 that a son of Uncle Mo would be purchased by Victor Martinez’s Victoria’s Ranch for $150,000 from the consignment of Gene Recio at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s Spring Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale. The horse that was purchased was none other than King Guillermo, winner of the Grade Two Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.
This year’s spring sale was moved to June because of the pandemic, but could lightning strike twice?
It’s Martinez’s humility and grace that makes him stand out from so many other professional athletes, the five-time Major League Baseball all-star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner has a passion for Thoroughbred racing that’s palpable. He acknowledges it was his trainer Juan Avila who deserves all the credit for selecting King Guillermo from last year’s spring sale.
“It was Juan Carlos the trainer, I’m just a guy who loves Thoroughbred racing,” said Martinez. “I don’t know anything about horses. The things that I know now, it’s because of the people I’ve surrounded myself with and them teaching me. Juan Carlos was the one behind it the whole time. He kept telling me he liked the horse. We were lucky to get him.”
Thoroughbred racing has been a part of the athlete’s life from an early age. However, he wasn’t the only one in his family who shared his enthusiasm for the sport.
“My wife and I always enjoyed going to the racetrack, we enjoy horse racing,” said Martinez. “We’re from Venezuela. My wife and I are from the same neighborhood, and she would go to the races with her family, and I would go to the races with my family.”
When he first came to the Major Leagues with the Cleveland Indians, his passion for Thoroughbred racing remained just as fervent. But professional baseball is labor intensive and physically demanding particularly at the elite level, and that restricted Martinez’s ability to indulge in his favorite pastime.
“I wanted to be able to devote my full attention to racing, and when I was playing baseball, it wasn’t the right time to do it,” said Martinez. “So, I just decided to wait, and when I was done with baseball, I became more involved.”
But it’s King Guillermo and his performance at the racetrack that’s been drawing all of the attention. A versatile performer who’s demonstrated his ability on dirt and turf, King Guillermo seems poised to add to his resume during his sophomore season.
“They’ve been telling me he’s doing great,” said Martinez. “We’re just taking it day by day and we’ll see what happens.”
King Guillermo’s victory in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby resonates deeply with Martinez, fulfilling a dream in the process.
“It felt great (to win the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby),” said Martinez. “Everybody knew he was 49-1, but we knew what we had. The question for us was, does he like the dirt? He made his debut on the dirt and didn’t do very well. He had already shown us that he could run on the turf.
“Our main question was if that he likes the dirt a little bit, we’re going to be right in the mix in the end. He sure did. He ran a great race. When I was watching him on the turn, it was a feeling I can’t describe. It was something else.”
King Guillermo, who was named for Martinez’s father, has connections with a commonality. The owner, trainer and jockey are all from the same country.
“My agent introduced me to Juan Carlos,” said Martinez. “I wanted to have a Venezuelan jockey too (Samy Camacho). I just wanted to have a Venezuelan team behind the horse. I was happy doing it that way.”
A strong second place effort by King Guillermo to Nadal in the second division of the Grade One Arkansas Derby pleased Martinez, who has now nominated the bay colt to the Triple Crown races.
“I think he ran a great race,” said Martinez. “Nadal is just a great horse. There’s no doubt about it. You don’t win races on paper. Nadal showed us he’s a great horse. It’s too bad he got injured and had to be retired. At the end of the day, you want to compete with the best. I think He had a great second behind Nadal.”
The experience of having a graded stakes winner is something that Martinez is soaking in, understanding the importance of the circumstances and their gravitas.
“It’s one more way to keep yourself humble…I just consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world, owning three horses and making it with one of them,” said Martinez. “I’m enjoying every single moment of this. It’s like baseball. You make the all-star game or you make the post season, you don’t know if you’re coming back the next year, so you enjoy every single moment. You keep working hard to make sure you come back. So, we’ll see what happens. You’re talking to a guy who doesn’t know anything about horses. I just love the races.”
Is there the possibility of finding another King Guillermo, from a sale that has already yielded outstanding results for Martinez?
“We still have a few more days,” said Martinez. “He’s working (Juan Carlos). The man with the eyes is working.”
By Ben Baugh