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HRN Original Blog:
Bay Area Backstretch

Standing by Their Racing Brother, Michael Martinez

One of the greatest things sports has to offer is competition. The sport of horse racing has some of the best you can ever hope to see. There aren’t many sights like two horses battling head to head down the length of the stretch, coming to the wire in unison.


That’s one thing that got me hooked into the game as a fan, then as a jockey agent, and now as an owner and blogger.


The race track has sights most people never get to see. There is nothing like watching the sun come up when standing on the backside in the mornings. The camaraderie I see when in the jockeys room doing an interview.  The elation of a horses winning connections after crossing the finish line first in a big race.


The race track is a community unto itself.  I’ve had the honor of meeting many incredible people in the horse racing business and I’ve seen some things that have made me smile.  Sunday night, was a night that left many incredible people in the business, with a big smile on their face.


I attended a fundraising dinner for former jockey Michael Martinez. You didn’t have to know Michael to know what the night meant to everyone in attendance. I had never met him myself, and still, I knew what the night meant.


As Martinez was announced to have entered the room, a ground swell of applause began as the crowd of over 300 rose to their feet. Well wishers and friends lined his path to greet him. I caught my first glimpse of Martinez as he passed by my aisle.


He went only as fast as his wheelchair could take him.


Martinez has been paralyzed from the waist down since a one horse spill he was in on September 12th  , 2010 at Golden Gate Fields. His mount that day in the fifth race, Fair n’ Warmer, clipped heels, as a bunched up field approached the far turn.


Martinez went down and was landed on by his horse. The accident happened so quickly that not many in attendance even saw it. Track announcer Michael Wrona, as unclear as everyone as to what exactly had happened, said as the horses turned for home, “Where is the favorite, I have lost him.”


Just that fast, the promising career of Martinez was taken away. At the time of the accident, Martinez was the leading rider at GGF and had won 168 races on the year, enjoying the finest stretch of his short four year career.


After an 11 hour emergency surgery, Martinez was announced to have a severed vertebrae. His career ended that day, but as fate would have it, a whole new life would soon be at hand for the 24-year-old.


Just nine days after the tragedy, his girlfriend gave birth to the couple’s daughter. This past Friday, the two got married and Sunday, Martinez’ friends, well-wishers and fellow jockeys got to see Michael for the first time since that tragic day.


“It feels good to see him and say hello and give him our best wishes,” said fellow jockey Francisco Duran, who was riding in Washington at the time. “All the jockeys have donated jock mounts, winning and losing ones to his recovery.”


Another jockey, Leslie Mawing, echoed Duran’s comments.


“I’m glad to see so many people showed up to support him tonight,” he said of the packed house. “He’s in our thoughts and our prayers every day.”


The night of music, dancing, raffles and a silent auction, netted over $12,500 for the Michael Martinez Fund, which will be used to help the family secure the best possible medical attention for the jockey. Martinez’ agent, Dennis Patterson and fellow agent Ray Harris are putting together a golf tournament for May 23rd, (at a yet to be determined place) as another fundraiser.


“Everybody at the racetrack comes together when something tragic like this happens,” said Patterson, who has remained close with the family. “I think it was good on both sides that Michael came out tonight. Good for the people to see him and good for him to see all the people that care about him.”


The highlight of the night was a photo session in which all the jockeys posed with Martinez for a group photo. Afterward many hugged him, shook his hand or rested their hand on his knee. They  know this is the all to real part, of the job that they do.




 

 

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Older Comments about Standing by Their Racing Brother, Michael Martinez...

The rider michael martinez graduated in December 2008 of President Remon racetrack. Michael was only in the horse racing track just 3 years, achieving great success as having little time ..
Wonderful piece, Don ... It's great to see how everyone comes together when one of their own needs it.

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Meet Don August

I have been involved in horse racing, from a fan to sportswriter, for the past 30 years. The first time my dad took me to the track, I picked a horse named "Black Tornado" and when he won, I was hooked.  From then on, I spent weekends and occasional school days at the race track, and my enjoyment of the sport led me to try my hand at being a jockey agent, which i did for 3 years. When that didn't work out as I had hoped, I concentrated on my writing career by covering big races and doing summer fair handicapping, off and on, for the Contra Costa Times.

Today, I stay involved in the sport by being part of a group that currently owns two horses stabled at Golden Gate Fields. As all owners, we have dreams of someday having that special horse.  Besides writing about horse racing I enjoy covering many sports and have had the honor of meeting and writing about some incredible athletes.