LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen July  21, 2024


Damian Martinez is quickly making a name for himself as one of the top Quarter Horse riders in the country. The 23-year-old was born in Coahuila, Mexico and began riding professionally in 2012. He has been on the Louisiana circuit for one year, and his stock is soaring!

Early Career Setbacks

It was a rocky beginning for Martinez in 2012, as a broken leg in a training accident kept him off mounts for six months. The young rider recalls that after one trainer fired him, he thought about quitting. However, horseman Brian Stroud saw his potential and the two embarked on a prolific association with Jrc Callas First. Under Martinez, the versatile Texas-bred won ten stakes, including wins in $150,000 Zia Park Championship in 2014 and 2015.

Jrc Callas First received the highest honor in the industry when he was named 2014 AQHA World Racing Champion. There are many jockeys that ride their entire life without riding a Grade 1 winner, let alone a world champion, but Martinez has that on his resume' already.

"He is the best horse I have ever ridden," stated Martinez. I love to get along with the horses that no one else can. Jrc Callas First is mean to people he doesn't know, but every morning I went to the barn to play around with him."

Martinez just won his 300th career race and has 19 stakes wins to date. In addition to Jrc Callas First, he won the 2016 Texas Classic Futurity with Eye N Capo as well as last yearís Firecracker Futurity at Delta Downs aboard Platinum Fdd.

Texas to Louisiana

Martinezís family moved to Texas when he was very young, and reside near San Antonio, Texas. He and Bianca Rosales are proud parents of their daughter, Daila, 2 Ĺ, who Martinez calls his "lucky charm".

"Itís tough being away from them," admits Martinez. "When I talk to Alfonso Lujan (who has three children with his wife, Anna), I realize how difficult it is for our wives and families when we are riding."

Martinez shipped his tack to Louisiana last spring and rode the entire meet at Delta Downs, finishing second to David Alvarez. He was not sure how things would go, but was welcomed with open arms by the members of the Delta Downs jockey colony.

"Itís a whole different atmosphere," stated Martinez. "Everyone was helpful and encouraging. You donít find that everywhere!"

Martinez tries to go home to see his family when he can, but enjoys the fellowship with his racing family in Louisiana.

"We have a lot of fun," he stated. "Sometimes we cookout and really enjoy bowling together!"

He appreciates the support of trainers Bobby Martinez, Vann Haywood and the Huitrons, among others, for giving him good mounts. In 2016, Martinez won 102 races; finishing second in AQHA standings by wins, to David Alvarez. The two Louisiana leaders were two of only four Quarter Horse jockeys in the country to eclipse 100 wins for the year.

Martinez has always admired Saul Ramirez, Jr., who helped him in the early years in Texas when he was still riding.

"Saul has really helped me become a better rider," said Martinez. "I still go ask his advice about some of my horses."

In turn, Ramirez, who retired from his 27-year race riding at the end of 2015 to embark upon a training career, had praise for Martinez.

"The first thing I remember about Damian is how well he listened," said Ramirez. "He came to me one day at Lone Star Park and asked for advice. I think one of the first horses we talked about was Jrc Callas First. I told him just to stay chill until he gets rolling."

When Ramirez began training, Martinez helped him out, galloping some of his horses and asking if there was anything he could do for him. Ramirez appreciated that and feels that with both his talent and work ethic, the young rider has a big future.

"Heís a good kid," added Ramirez. "I believe he understands that all horses are different; if he needs help, he will ask. Not all riders do that!"

Off to a Great Start in 2017

Martinez is the current leading rider at the Louisiana Downs meet, and has two finalists in the $271,738 Mardi Gras Futurity (RG2) and the $93,898 Mardi Gras Derby on March 18. Abraham Huitronís Cos I Get It, a son of Tee Cos, set the fifth fastest time in Mardi Gras Futurity trials run on February 25.

"He was a nice surprise," admitted Martinez. "He pretty much walked out of the starting gate and then just blew them away! I had galloped him a few times, but didnít expect him to fire like that."

His derby mount will be Coronaoro, a son of Coronas Leaving You, bred and owned by Bobby J. Barnett. Bobby Martinez conditions the gelding, who was the ninth-fastest qualifier.

"Bobby takes such good care of his horses," added Martinez. "He and (Dr.) Tommy Hays make a perfect team."

The Louisiana Downs meet wraps up on March 22, and Martinez is the current leader in the jockey standings over Everardo Rodriguez and David Alvarez.

He took a minute to reflect on his accomplishments in the past five years.

"Itís been a lot of work, but it feels great to be doing this well," he said.

Young, talented and firmly grounded. Think itís a safe bet to say we will be seeing a lot more of Damian Martinez in the years to come!

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen for www.lqhba.com. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.