Martin Garcia’s life story seems like something out of a Hollywood script. He emigrated from Mexico to the United States in 2003 and went to work at a deli in Pleasanton, CA. After learning that Teri Terry, the owner of the deli, owned a horse, Garcia implored her to let him ride, and Terry discovered Garcia’s innate talent.
“I turned around and he had grabbed her mane, walked up the side of her, and jumped on,” Terry told Sfgate.com in an interview. “He proceeded to walk, trot and canter in the arena for over an hour. He started going over jumps bareback.”
Terry recalled saying to herself, “Martin has got to be around horses.”
That’s when she introduced Garcia to Mark Hanna, a former jockey and current trainer in Northern California.
“The kid was a natural,” Hanna told Sfgate.com. “He had really good balance and really good, soft hands. Horses just loved him.”
Dennis Ward, a former trainer based at the now-defunct Bay Meadows, described Garcia as “a freak of nature.”
“I looked at that kid and I said, ‘Don’t tell me that kid has never rode a race, he looked so natural it was unreal.’ I’d show him something like how to switch sticks from one hand to another and he’d pick it up overnight. It usually takes years to learn how to ride (in races). He did it in months.”
Garcia got his first victory in his third ever race, aboard longshot Wild Daydreamer at Bay Meadows in 2005. After matching riding legend Russell Baze mount-for-mount at the tender age of 21 at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, Garcia moved his tack to Southern California in 2006.
He had some decent years, compiling at least 90 wins a season from 2007-2009 while earning over $3.5 million in purse money each year. But Garcia got his big break in 2010 when Bob Baffert asked him to ride Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness Stakes. Lookin At Lucky would win convincingly, and Garcia would soon become Baffert’s go-to rider.
In fact, the majority of Garcia’s meaningful career wins have come aboard Baffert trainees such as Plum Pretty (2011 Kentucky Oaks), Coil (2011 Haskell Invitational), Secret Circle (2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint), New Year’s Day (2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile), Bayern (2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic) and Dortmund (2015 Santa Anita Derby).
However, Garcia and Baffert had what Baffert described as a “falling-out” earlier this year, so Garcia’s workload and winning percentage has dipped in 2016. But Garcia has formed new partnerships with other preeminent trainers out west such as Jerry Hollendorfer and Peter Eurton, so the naturally-gifted rider with a Hollywood story can’t be written off just yet.
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