Friday, 15 October 2021 18:26

Marti's sudden success the result of 10 years of hard work, struggle and overcoming injury

Alex Marti and Uncharacteristic in the parade to post of the 2021 Canadian Derby Alex Marti and Uncharacteristic in the parade to post of the 2021 Canadian Derby Photos by Julie Brewster/HRA

It's been a very long, winding, often frustrating road to get to where jockey Alex Marti is today. This past Saturday he won five races at Century Mile. But it certainly hasn't always been like this. Starting his career in Ontario in 2011, Marti, who was born in Canada but grew up in Argentina, only won three races in all of 2014.

In 2015 he won 24 races but from 2016 to 2018 he never won a single race. In 2016 he didn't ride at all in North America. In 2017 he had 15 mounts in Ontario and was winless. In all of 2018 he had just two mounts: one of them clipped heels with another horse and fell; the other one finished last at odds of 54-1.

It didn't get a whole lot better. In 2019, just a week before the races started up at Hastings Park in Vancouver, where he has done by far the most of his riding, Marti broke his foot galloping a horse in the morning. The horse threw Marti and he ended up putting all his weight on one foot. The second, third and fourth metatarsal bones all fractured. Two months later, on August 11 he broke his collar bone when his horse stumbled coming out of the starting gate.

Those weren't the only injuries Marti has had in his perilous career as a jockey. On September 23, 2013, his mount at Hastings fell and Marti hit the ground hard. He was rushed, unconscious, to the hospital. "I had a really bad concussion. Afterwards I was always really dizzy; I didn't ride again that year," said Marti, whose injury also prevented him from riding until June of 2014. In this job you can get hurt anytime. You don't know what is going to happen."

But look at him now. His five-win day at Century Mile, a track he has never ridden at until this year, gives him 61 victories on the season. That's more than a third of his 162 career wins. But that's just for starters as far as this wonderful year Marti is enjoying.

Marti, who also won five races on a single card last year at Hastings, also won both the August 2 Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs and the September 11 Canadian Derby at Century Mile with Uncharacteristic. "Everybody told me I was going all the way to Winnipeg from Vancouver to run second," said Marti, 29, who has also won about 80 races in Argentina where he rides in the winter months when the racing season is over in Canada.

"They all said that I couldn't beat Myopic." But Uncharacteristic, who was claimed for just $8,000, did beat Myopic, who was purchased for $200,000. He also defeated everyone else. Coming from mid-pack in the Manitoba Derby, Marti gave Uncharacteristic a perfect ride. While Myopic, who was sent off at 3-5, raced on the front end - duelling early with Stone Cafe - Marti just patiently waited saving ground all the way.

Even when Myopic disposed of Stone Cafe and appeared to be moving on to his expected victory as he increased his lead to 2 1/2 lengths, Marti still sat. Then, at the head of the lane, Marti finally asked Uncharacteristic. While the rest of the field faded into the darkness Marti and Uncharacteristic just kept coming and coming. Turning the Manitoba Derby into a match race Uncharacteristic crossed the finish line a length and quarter on top. It was 10 lengths back to third-place finisher Warrior's Hero.

"It was a surprise," said Marti. "I'd never won a Derby before. I had so many feelings that day. It was unbelievable for me."

In the Canadian Derby, Uncharacteristic and Marti showed that the Manitoba Derby was anything but a fluke. Sitting much closer than he did in Winnipeg, Uncharacteristic and Marti once again saved ground running poised and confident in fourth place along the rail.

Then, just as he did in the Manitoba Derby, Uncharacteristic was taken off the rail around the final turn to engage the front-running pair of Myopic, who got squeezed badly at the start, and Smart Play. Again there was no stopping him. Neither Myopic or Smart Play relented easily but Uncharacteristic would not be denied as they won by three-quarters of a length.

"He broke well and I waited until the quarter pole," said Marti, who stood up tall and raised his right hand high into the heavens even before he crossed the finish line. "When I asked him he gave me everything he had. "It was a different race with different horses but I knew I was going to be tough. I knew we could win that race."

Even the two Derby wins weren't the only stakes races Marti won this year. He also won two stakes at Auburn, Washington's Emerald Downs taking the August 29 Washington Oaks by five and and the September 26 Washington Cup Filly and Mares stake with Bayakoas Image, who was based at Hastings. He won the Washington Cup by five and three-quarter lengths and the Washington Oaks by a neck. For good measure Marti also won the October 2 Alberta Oaks on the Fall Classic program with Dance Shoes for trainer Jim Brown.

As for his five-win day last Saturday Marti went wire-to-wire with Southern Warlord in the third, won a head-to-head duel with Predestined in the fourth, came from far back with Johnny in the fifth, led throughout with Eddyshak in the seventh and then capped it off with a victory aboard Dense Fog in the eighth when he came from mid-pack.

So, after all the disappointing seasons and injuries Marti has endured how do explain the stirring success Marti is having this year? "I'm riding better and I'm getting better horses to ride," said Marti.

"I used to ride a lot of horses that nobody else wanted to ride. I didn't get a lot of good chances. And, I have the best agent in Western Canada," he said of Travis 'Trapper' Barroby, the son of Canadian Hall of Fame trainer, Harrold Barroby.

"The biggest thing is that he's riding with a lot of confidence," said Trapper. "He struggled with it for a long time but he's got it all together this year. He's having a spectacular season. He's riding better and better and better. He wants to win with every horse he rides. He's a hard worker and he listens to everything you tell him. He's been a pleasure to work with."

Trapper also said in addition to his talent Marti is a very smart rider. "He knows where all the horses are in a race. He knows where he should be and he knows where the other horses should be. He watches all the replays; trainers don't have to give him many instructions because he just knows. He gives good feedback. He's a pleasure to work with; he's a very good guy."

Marti agrees with Trapper that confidence is a big factor to his late success. "When you are winning races you feel more confidence. Your brain is clear. When I watch replays and see mistakes I made I get mad. And I see what I can do next time to win."

Marti says there is something else to explain his late success. "I think I grew up to be honest. I used to go to the clubs and then I sometimes wouldn't show up at the track the next morning. It's not the way to do it. I liked to party and I was doing stupid things. It wasn't good for me. I would make money and then I would spend it all. I saved nothing. Now I'm focused on winning races, not partying."

Despite all the travails Marti has had in his 10 years as a jockey, he never once thought of quitting. "Never," said Marti, who plans to ride at both Hastings and Century Mile next year so that he can ride four days a week. "I don't give up. I just kept trying and trying. I want to get better and better. Right now I want to be the best. I've loved horse racing for as long as I can remember," said Marti, who started riding in Argentina when he was 17 taking his apprenticeship at the Hipodromo de La Punta in San Luis.

"My dad had a friend who had race horses. One day when I was very young my dad's friend asked me if I wanted to go see the horses run. I said, yeah, sure. Since then all I've wanted to do is ride horses. That's where it all started," said Marti, whose mother and father live in Mendoza, a bustling city in Western Argentina where he grew up.

He also has a sister who lives in Toronto. "I started as a groom and then became a gallop boy. Then I became a jockey."

"He's only going to get better," says Trapper. "He's a real talent."

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