With all the excitement surrounding Ransom the Moon's first Grade 1 win in Saturday's Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar, majority owner Mark Martinez couldn't help but wish Drefong and jockey Mike Smith hadn't parted ways at the start of the race.
“Some people call it racing luck, but I never would have wished for anyone to get hurt like that,” Martinez said. “I actually think my horse could have beaten them in a fair race.”
Since Martinez purchased the 5-year-old out of Canada from breeder Sam-Son Farm at the start of 2017, Ransom the Moon has won three of his four starts, including two graded stakes. Transferring him from Woodbine's synthetic and turf surfaces (where he was a solid allowance-caliber horse) to the dirt courses of Southern California appears to have molded the son of Malibu Moon into a top-class sprinter.
The Bing Crosby was his first try in Grade 1 company, however, and bettors backed Ransom the Moon as the third choice against last year's sprint champion Drefong, making his first start since November, and Roy H, impressive 2 ½-length winner of the G2 True North at Belmont last out.
Drefong was automatically disqualified when he lost his rider, and turning for home, Roy H was also inconvenienced as the loose horse carried him out to nearly the six-path. Still, Ransom the Moon had only a one-length advantage over Roy H at the head of the lane, and the long-striding chestnut ran on strongly to win by 1 ½ lengths.
The victory earned Ransom the Moon an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Sprint this November at Del Mar, for which Martinez is grateful. But the thrill of finding himself in the winner's circle last Saturday was not just about the Breeders' Cup, or even the Grade 1 accomplishment.
“The biggest reward for me is having found a horse that maybe couldn't reach its full potential, for whatever reason,” Martinez explained. “When I can hand that horse over to my team and the horse performs like Ransom the Moon, the feeling is just unbelievable.”
Martinez learned the information technology trade in the Air Force, then spent several years working for the private sector in IT management. In 2000, he decided to strike out on his own. In the beginning, building M2 Technology required 15-hour days.
As a man with a particularly well-developed sense of organization, as evidenced by the spreadsheet he keeps on his 15 racehorses (it's color-coordinated), Martinez's efficiency surely helped M2 become the success it is today.
A willingness to focus on his own strengths also helped. Though he has a strong background in technology, Martinez generally works with the people and management side of the business, bringing a “face” to the often-complicated world of technology.
“I hire people a lot smarter than me to do the hard part of the job,” he laughs. Martinez has built a team at M2 which allows him to spend at least four hours every day working on his racing stable.
Spending long hours poring over the figures in past performances, pedigrees and race replays comes naturally to Martinez. During that time, he is not only looking at his own horses, checking in with their trainers and planning out their upcoming races, but he also does his own leg-work, seeking out horses that might make a good claim, looking for young horses at the sales, or pursuing horses he might be able to buy privately. Martinez has agents to help with those searches, of course, but the hands-on executive enjoys being heavily involved in the process.
“Just like at M2, I've built up an incredible team of horsemen to support my stable,” he said. “Mark Cornett and Hebert Bloodstock deserve special shout-outs, as well as my trainers Phil D'Amato and Michelle Lovell. And, of course, none of this would be possible without the support of my wife.”
The horse racing bug bit Martinez early in life, but it wasn't until 2005 that he really began to get involved. As a way to “get his feet wet,” Martinez purchased 15 percent of a horse named Goodwillambassador in partnership with Bob Feld (now breeder and part-owner of Miss Temple City) under the name “Bongo Racing.” Though that venture was ultimately unsuccessful, Martinez was hooked.
“I'd always loved the sport, the majesty of the horses and the excitement,” he said. “I had such a good experience with Bob, I just had to get a few horses of my own. It's funny, in the beginning I told my wife it'd just be 15 percent of one horse. Today it's 15 horses!”
Initially Martinez got involved near his San Antonio, Texas, home at Retama Park, racing under the name “Agave Racing Stable.”
“It's the whole ‘enchilada' – the Mexican Connection so to speak,” he explained. “Martinez, Rios (my wife's Dad was from Mexico and they lived in the Jalisco region) and of course tequila! Very representative of Mexico and San Antonio, so I thought it was kind of cool. I joke that if I ever wanted to start a syndicate under Agave Racing Stable that I would use the advertising tag line ‘Take a shot!'”
Eventually Martinez branched out to the surrounding states, hooking up with trainer Michelle Lovell. She brought him up to Chicago and to Kentucky and was successful with his mid-level stock, but Martinez decided he wanted to play the game on the West Coast with really top-class horses. Still, he keeps three or four horses in Lovell's stable on the east side of the Mississippi because she is “an incredible trainer, and so good with the horses.”
Out West, he struck gold with the filly Street Fancy and trainer Phil D'Amato, who gave him his first Grade 1 win in the 2015 Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos. Though he owned 100 percent of her, Martinez has more recently focused on laying off some of the risk by partnering in the majority of his horses. He prefers to own 75 percent of a horse but has any number of different partnership agreements on the table at any given time.
“It's such a tough game,” Martinez said. “I have such an appreciation for how challenging it is to win a Grade 1… but I also really love the competition.”
Part of the fun, Martinez said, is going to the backside in the mornings to be near the horses. If he flies to Del Mar by himself, he prefers to stay in the hotel across the street from the backstretch, allowing him to walk over for training hours in the mornings.
Martinez also enjoys giving back to the sport he loves. Every year at Retama Park, M2 Technology sponsors a stakes race, and Martinez served three years with the Texas Thoroughbred Association. Most recently, M2 worked with Little Red Feather Racing to sponsor a softball team in a charity game near Del Mar, with the proceeds going to Thoroughbred aftercare.
“It's really important to me,” said Martinez. “I also like to try to help new owners get into the sport, answering all of their questions and helping to point them in the right direction.”
For Ransom the Moon, his next start won't come until the G1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship on Oct. 7, expected to be the horse's final prep before the Breeders' Cup. In the meantime, Martinez has several other exciting prospects looking to step into the spotlight with their stablemate, including sophomore Bowies Hero, winner of the Oceanside Stakes on opening day at Del Mar.
Martinez has even come full circle, paying homage to that first racehorse he owned a piece of; he recently named an unraced 2-year-old colt “Goodwillambassador.”
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