Four weeks into the meet, trainer Carlos Martin looks at his string of 15 in Barn 31 just beyond the far turn of the main track, with a dozen more horses at Belmont Park, and smiles. Five wins, from 16 starts through Saturday? He'll take it. He'll also look at a slight change in his schedule and file that away for next year and beyond. (Editor's note: Originally published in Aug. 21 issue of The Sarartoga Special.)
"It's gone well," he said Saturday morning after training. "With Aqueduct closing (its stable area) it kind of forced me to move things around and I'm happy I did. I got horses here the beginning of May and a lot of them have done well at the meet. It's just kind of the way things worked out."
New clients such as Matt Schera and Blue Devil Racing have helped improve Martin's quality of runners, and have also helped push more energy to a public stable after the death of owner Carl Lizza of Flying Zee Stable in 2011.
"Mr. Lizza was my main man for so many years that opening a public stable after all these years is like starting over again," Martin said. "I never thought it would be so hard to get horses to train, but people were like 'Where were you?' We have some good people backing us now and we're in a bit of a resurgence. Let's hope we can continue it."
Son of trainer Jose Martin (who trained three champions and died in 2006) and grandson of Hall of Famer Frank "Pancho" Martin (who won 3,284 races and died in 2012) won a Grade 1 with Buy The Firm at age 21 in 1990 and heads into the final two weeks of Saratoga looking to tack on a few more to his five at the meet.
Saturday, he walked through the barn with The Special's Joe Clancy and said hello to the stable.
Farhaan: In the first stall at the end of the barn, facing neighbor Graham Motion's string and two down from Martin's office on the other corner, the bay 7-year-old got acquainted with his surroundings after grazing for a half-hour. Martin won a nine-way shake to claim the son of Jazil for $40,000 out of a win for Kiaran McLaughlin Friday. Schera is the three-time stakes winner's new owner. "Matt's a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy and he said 'I like a couple horses today.' He's a shrewd guy, a good handicapper and has been lucky claiming horses. We're excited to have this horse in the barn. He's a cool horse. He can run dirt, he can run turf. There's a mile-and-a-half race at Parx, the Greenwood, for $200,000 that sometimes comes up light. Maybe we'll take a look at that, or there's an 80 claimer going a mile on the grass in about 10 days."
Berks County: The 2-year-old son of Lonhro won his debut going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf here Aug. 11. Owned by Schera, the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga graduate could stretch out in the With Anticipation Stakes Aug. 31 or wait for another spot in September. Either way, Martin is optimistic. "He's a big, raw kind of a horse who's very relaxed and straightforward. We're excited. We're looking at a couple of the Win and You're In (the Breeders' Cup) races, but I'd like to manage him and not get carried away. He's a good one."
Prime Time Man: Another new member of the team, Schera and Martin claimed the 3-year-old from Zayat Stable and D. Wayne Lukas Friday for $35,000. The son of Zensational won an allowance race at Ellis Park July 3 and was third in his first start for a tag Friday. "They ran him against older horses and I thought it was a big race. He was a little bit fractious in the gate, he seems like a high-strung horse so we'll see if we can get him to settle and get into our program. I like that he put in a good effort against a salty group of older horses. Hopefully we'll find a 3-year-old race for him. I'm up against it a little bit, claiming him from a legendary trainer, but we'll see what we can do with him."
J. J. Jake: The Seidman Stable homebred, a big son of Colonel John, makes his debut as a 3-year-old in today's first race going 6 1/2 furlongs. Martin called "J.J." the barn's friendliest horse, though don't send your kids over for pony rides just yet. "I don't know if I have any the kids could walk, I've got to get them out of the stall more. But this horse was standing out there for the tattoos and the markings and everything. He looked like a bomb could have gone off. He's pretty cool. Everybody likes him. He was a big, big 2-year-old, really thick and wasn't going anywhere fast. I went down and saw him at Hidden Brook in Ocala four or five months ago and I said 'Can't we just geld this horse and see if that moves him along a little?' He was going through some growing pains, but now he's doing well. I have high hopes for him. He's worked well out of the gate for Kendrick Carmouche (5 furlongs in 1:00.10 and 1:01.12). He's got kind of a funny body for a horse who shows as much speed as he does coming out of the gate."
Sand City: Blue Devil Racing's 2-year-old filly homebred has yet to run, but has worked a half-mile four times (the last two from the gate). Martin won't get in too much of a hurry with the New York-bred daughter of City Zip. "She's a few weeks away. I'm not one of those guys where you're going to see 20 workouts on a 2-year-old. The last five or six years I get them fit enough where they're going to run well, kind of old school like my dad. I believe that when you get close enough, let's run them. Get the show on the road. She's filling out nicely and going through a little bit of a growth spurt. I was going to push, push, push and then I just backed off a little bit. I'm resigned to the fact that I might just wait until the first week of Belmont. It's easy to get in a hurry."
Steve's Image: Seidman Stable's New York-bred 3-year-old won here last year, and has been third twice at this year's meet. Martin likes the improvement. "He got beat by two older horses (Friday), ran a good race. He got taken out to the outside fence almost and Johnny (Velazquez) said that with a little better racing luck he might have won. He was a decent 2-year-old. He came back and things weren't going too smoothly for him. He ran better than he's been running Friday."
Eden Ridge: New client Ron McKee sent the Lookin At Lucky gelding to Martin this summer, and the 3-year-old New York-bred won his first start for the new barn going 6 1/2 furlongs here July 29. "He destroyed the field that day. We might wheel him back in the Albany (Aug. 26). We're taking a little bit of a shot going a mile-an-eighth, but he's by Lookin At Lucky and the mare won distance races. We need another forward move in the Albany, it's going to be competitive but the best horse in the race (Hit It Once More) I believe is going to the Travers. That kind of makes the race intriguing to take a shot in for $200,000. You've got to run. He just worked (5 furlongs in 1:00.60 Thursday) really well."
Super Allison: Schera's New York-bred 3-year-old filly cost $230,000 at Fasig-Tipton's sale at Timonium last year and has won two in a row including a score in the New York Oaks last out at Finger Lakes July 23. The daughter of Super Saver has improved since she teamed up with jockey Jackie Davis - they're 2-for-2 together. "She had a little bit of a gate issue early on and Jackie gets along well with her. She works hard in the morning, she puts the time in and this filly, she only breaks for her. Everybody else she kind of breaks and sucks back and loses 4 lengths at the beginning. We're going to take a swing at the Fleet Indian (Aug. 26). She's gone a mile, she's gone a mile-and-a-sixteenth so we're going to try a mile-and-an-eighth."
Party Mint Star: Owned and bred by Team West Side and Annie Zabar, the 2-year-old Desert Party filly recently moved into Martin's barn from David Cannizzo and will get started toward her barn debut. "She was third (in June) and fourth (in May) and had some shins. We're just bringing her back but I think she'll be useful especially for the winter. David told me to be patient with her. She'll have an easy workout (today) and we'll get her started. She's also filling out a little bit. When I got her a couple weeks ago she looked good, but I really think she's turning the corner now."
Foreign Affair: Blue Devil Racing's 2-year-old Exchange Rate filly is nearing her debut and could grace the Saratoga starting gate over the meet's final two weeks. Friday, she was proudly showing off two stall boards she'd blasted with her hind legs - Martin was going to be playing carpenter - but was much more kind to humans. "She looks like she had some fun today - maybe she heard those fireworks from the wedding at Prime the other day. She's up to her third half-mile, working steady. She looks like she's got some speed and some class. I'm looking forward to getting her on the grass for a work on Monday and then look for a race at the end of the meet. She's trained well on the dirt too so the jury's open on her. She actually looked a little small to me coming out of the sale, but she's turning into a beautiful filly. She's been :49, :48 and change but easy and she's a rocket out of the gate. I just need to get her a little fitter."