Martinez's career off to fast start


All they could say was: "What a ride! What a ride!"

Apprentice jockey Seth Martinez calmly had steered Countess Lee out of trouble on the far turn and again down the homestretch in Friday's first race at Laurel Park. The 3-year-old filly closed with a rush for the victory.

"The boy's got a God-given knack," said Clinton S. Bratton, the filly's trainer.

In the footsteps of Chris McCarron and Kent Desormeaux, who became stars as apprentice jockeys in Maryland, comes Martinez, who turned 17 two weeks ago. On Wednesday, he won four straight races at Laurel. Friday, he won only the first but rode in all 10 -- for nine different trainers.

"I was impressed with him the first time I saw him," said Joe French, the agent who secures his mounts. "He stays on the rail, tries to save ground. He's patient, doesn't panic, and he's only 17."

The soft-spoken Martinez arrived at Pimlico last month with his father, Dickie, a former jockey and horse trainer. The 5-foot-1, 106-pound youngster, who as an apprentice receives a 5-pound weight break, won four races there, and so far has won 11 at Laurel. He loses his weight advantage this fall.

Growing up around horses out West, he knew by age 8 what he wanted to be. "A jockey, that's all I ever wanted to do," Martinez said.

He started riding professionally at 16, mostly at Turf Paradise in Arizona. This spring, he said, he and his father decided it was time to seek fame in the East.

He downplays his success, saying: "It's 90 percent the horse. If you just find a clear path for them, they'll do the work."

But trainers such as veteran Dale Capuano, for whom Martinez rode two horses Friday, said he has talent.

"He gets in a rhythm with a horse; horses just seem to ride for him," Capuano said. "And he's a nice kid. I'd like to see him make it all the way."

Winning Colors-Unbridled foal

Winning Colors, winner of the 1988 Kentucky Derby, is carrying history in her belly.

On May 25 at Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky., Winning Colors was bred to Unbridled, winner of the 1990 Kentucky Derby. The foal due in late April would be the first ever from two Kentucky Derby winners.

"We're already eagerly awaiting the arrival of the foal," said Michael Hernon, Gainesway's director of sales. "It's almost a unique opportunity to have a foal from two winners of the Kentucky Derby."

Owned by Gainesway president Graham J. Beck, Winning Colors was only the third filly to win the country's most famous race. Regret triumphed in 1915 and Genuine Risk in 1980. Genuine Risk was bred to Secretariat, Hernon said, but did not become pregnant.

Now 11, Winning Colors has given birth to one colt and four fillies. Her filly by Mr. Prospector, Golden Colors, sold for $1.05 million at the July 1994 yearling sale at Keeneland. That was the most paid for a yearling at that prestigious sale -- male or female.

Japanese investors bought Golden Colors, already a stakes winner in Japan. Japanese breeders previously had purchased stallions Sunday Silence and Forty Niner. And now the Japanese have come bidding for Unbridled, offering a reported $13 million for the 9-year-old sire of Grindstone, this year's Kentucky Derby winner, and Unbridled's Song, the beaten Derby favorite.

Hernon declined to comment on the offer. Owned by the estate of Frances A. Genter, Unbridled stands at Gainesway.

Japanese passion for horses

Americans are continually amazed to learn just how horse-crazy the Japanese are.

"I answer the question about once a week: 'You mean they have horse racing in Japan?' " said Malcolm Commer, extension livestock economist at the University of Maryland and coordinator of a U.S. Department of Agriculture marketing project for exporting thoroughbreds.

The project is aiming at the Japanese, who Commer said spent more than $86 million last year on 321 American horses, mostly yearlings and 2-year-olds. They run them in races with the world's largest purses, an average of $210,000 per race.

Horse racing is so big in Japan that on last fall's Japan Cup day, bettors wagered about $580 million. By contrast, bettors last year in Maryland, on- and off-track, wagered about $475 million -- during the entire year.

And no Japanese horse is bigger than Shin Zan. He is 35 1/2 years old, winner of every major Japanese race and sire of more than 800 foals. He is retired at a farm in the Japanese countryside.

"Shin Zan carried the Japanese thoroughbred industry and gave it new life after its wartime demise," Jim Downs wrote recently in the Daily Racing Form. "For Japan he was Cigar, Secretariat and Man o' War. If a Japanese knows only one racehorse by name, the name is Shin Zan."

His stall resembles a shrine, where steady streams of admirers leave cards, flowers and sacred mementos. This deluge of affection does not surprise Commer.

"The Japanese revere the horse, and the sport of racing, much more than Americans do," he said.

Odd-even wager coming

A new wager in horse racing debuts in two weeks -- a wager so simple and potentially appealing that it could attract hordes of new fans, said racing innovator Barry Weisbord.

On three nationally televised harness races July 13, bettors can place an odd-even wager. "Odd" pays off when any odd-numbered horse wins, "even" when any even-numbered horse wins.

"For the first time, horse racing has a weapon, a consumer product which can truly be competitive with sports betting and slot machines," said Weisbord, president of the American Championship Harness Series and former head of the American Championship Racing Series for thoroughbreds. "I think it is going to be the product which can give the industry new life into the next century."

Televised live on ESPN2 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., the races are the Meadowlands Pace at the Meadowlands, the Sheppard Pace at Yonkers Raceway and the Courageous Lady at Northfield Park. Viewers can place the odd-even wager -- and regular wagers -- only through the Ladbroke phone-betting system, operated at Ladbroke at The Meadows harness track near Pittsburgh.

Marylanders can open an account with Ladbroke by calling (800) 523-2765.

Designed to compete with casino and sports betting by stripping away the complexities of horse handicapping, the odd-even wager requires a minimum $10 bet and features an astonishingly low 5 percent takeout. Jeff Zidek, Ladbroke's communications manager, said the odds, determined by the amount bet on "odd" and "even," most likely would be 4-5 for one and 6-5 for the other, providing payoffs of $18 or $22.

"This is more or less a trial case this year," Zidek said. "Common sense says that if it's a huge success, other tracks would consider it."

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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