THW: Getting His Preak On

THE HOARSE WHISPERER  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  19 May 2010, Wednesday

Getting His Preak On

It’s all quiet on the local front, with the next salvo of major races still to come on June 5 and 6 at Santa Ana Park – the second legs of the Philippine Racing Commission Triple Crown and Hopeful stakes series.

From a mile distance some weeks back, the distance for these coming races will be lengthened to 1,800 meters. The third test will be the most formidable challenge, at 2,000m. Which is why we don’t always see Triple Crown sweeps happen. A horse has to be frightfully good over several distances, flexible and with great stamina and endurance, to cop all three legs.

Our horses don’t lack for courage and heart, but when you’ve specialized as a miler, or don’t have what it takes to go the extra several hundred meters, there’s no chance to earn that most coveted of honors.

So let’s turn our attention to the world stage. The Preakness Stakes, second leg of the US Triple Crown, was run last Saturday. Unlimited beer overflowed in the infield. As a tactic to attract patrons, along with racy “Get Your Preak On” ads, it worked to bring in the attendance, but not quite the handle of former years. That’s not surprising considering the world economic recession. More on that later.

Still, interest was high, after jockey Calvin Borel confidently said that his mount Super Saver would win the race. The tandem won the rain-drenched Kentucky Derby by riding the rail in tried-and-tested Borel fashion.

Yet conditions were different at the Preakness. It was sunny, and the track at Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland was dry. This time around, Borel drew a center post position and did not get to the rail, his signature style. Preakness honors went to the KY Derby favorite Lookin at Lucky, who did the 1-3/16 miles in 1:55.47.

Martin Garcia on Lookin at Lucky win the 2010 Preakness. (Image: Kim Hairston/MCT, from

In the KY Derby, Lookin at Lucky did poorly in the slop, coming in sixth with rider Garrett Gomez. One factor that may have contributed to Lookin at Lucky’s better performance in the Preakness was a change of rider. Trainer Bob Baffert earned his fifth Preakness win with newcomer Martin Garcia, 25, who rode Conveyance to a 15th-place finish in the KY Derby.

Garcia’s story is heartwarming. He arrived in the US in 2003, and worked as a grill cook in a San Francisco deli, serving up spicy specials. The deli owner, Terri Terry, learned that Garcia grew up around horses in his hometown of Veracruz, Mexico. Sometime later he got a chance to ride Terri’s 14-yo gray mare, and showed off natural talent in handling horses which impressed his boss, who found an opportunity for him to work in Bay Area tracks.

Terri and Martin at the deli. (Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images from

Even as he developed his uncanny riding skills – a former trainer at Bay Meadows called him “a freak of nature” – Garcia still put in hours at the deli, working hard at both jobs. Five years into his riding career, his name is now etched in history books. A meteoric rise indeed.

He now lives near Santa Anita Park in Southern California, but once in a while visits the deli where he had his start. “He is very fine with the steaks on the grill,” said his friend Rigo Perez, a cook at the deli. “He adds some spices that are really good.” On and off the track, look for spicy moves from Martin Garcia, sure to boot more winners in the future.

Martin Garcia. (Image: TVG Interactive Horseracing at

I’m amazed. A talented horseman who can cook? I want one!

Super Saver and Lookin at Lucky are not competing in the June 5 1-1/2 miles Belmont Stakes, third leg of the US Triple Crown. Once more, this leaves the field wide open and it will be interesting to handicap this one. Will it be the Nick Zito-trained Ice Box? Or Baffert’s Martin Garcia-steered Game On Dude?

Sadly, financial woes are threatening to close down the non-profit corporation New York Racing Association, some say as soon as the day after the Belmont Stakes.  The NYRA has been operating since the 1950s and has the franchise to run Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga until 2033. If it closes, it will mean the loss of 2,000 backstretch jobs and the displacement of 3,000 horses.

Many tracks in the US have closed over the past several years due to financial declines, bringing an end to historic places and casting a gloom over sport. A recovery back to the Golden Age of racing seems highly unlikely at this time.

For once, we can look over the local version of the sport and be glad that it is still economically viable at this time, and the people who look to it for their livelihoods may be assured of their jobs at least for years to come.

Racing fans, too, may look forward to the second and third legs of the Philippine Triple Crown, showcasing local-bred runners, while tipping their glasses to the memory of the grand old American tracks that made the sport what it is today. ***

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