Greg Martin knows what it's like to be close to greatness.
As a PGA Tour caddie – where he was known as “Piddler” – Martin guided Dan Forsman and Mark Calcavecchia to six combined victories.
Martin hasn't done too badly as a horse owner even though he was late to the game. One of the first horses he bought a tiny piece of in 2013 was Commanding Curve. All that colt did was finish second to California Chrome in the 2014 Kentucky Derby (G1) as a 37-1 longshot.
Martin, 72, will have his heart in his throat again in Saturday's Curlin Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park. Martin's wife, Kathleen Sands Martin, owns a small share of favored Tiz the Law as a member of the Sackatoga Stable syndicate.
The Piddler is confident, but feels helpless.
“It's tough caddying when your player has a chance to win, making sure you pull the right club,” Martin said. “If I make a mistake, it's on me. I'm in the game.
“When the gate opens Saturday, I'm not in the game. There's nothing I can do.”
“I won't blame the jockey if we lose.”
It was Kathleen who started this journey. The Piddler returned from a PGA Tour event in 2007 when his wife gave him the news.
“Sweetheart, we're in the horse racing business,” she said.
Piddler reacted as if his player had just four-putted.
“You've got to be nuts,” he said. “Horse racing? We just bought a house!”
And Kathleen bought a piece of horses named Doc N Roll and Pie In The Sky. She took $20,000 out of her 401k and invested it into Sackatoga's horse share-ownership program after seeing an ad in a Rochester, N.Y., newspaper and thought it was worth a shot.
“I thought it would be a great experience,” Kathleen said. I never went into it thinking I would make money.”
Nor did she think they would have a chance – make that two chances – to win the Kentucky Derby. A victory Saturday would solidify Tiz the Law's role as the Derby favorite, even though the race has been shifted from May to September because of the coronavirus.
The Martins have been to all four of Tiz the Law's races in New York, Kentucky and Florida, and were planning on returning to Gulfstream Park on Saturday. COVID-19 changed those plans and they will watch the race from their home in Dunedin, not far from Tampa Bay Downs.
“It's going to be terrible,” Martin said of not being able to attend the race. “I already asked my sister for Xanax.”
It's safe to say Piddler gets a little louder during the race than he did when caddying for 35 years.
“He'll be yelling and screaming,” Kathleen said. “You can't do that on the course, but he will be loud during the race. There's nothing like that feeling of watching your horse take over in the stretch and knowing you are going to win.”
They were at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 1 when Tiz the Law handily won the Holy Bull Stakes (G3). They were concerned when Tiz the Law got boxed in on the backstretch, but jockey Manny Franco took Tiz the Law wide and the horse proved its talent with a three-length victory.
“It was like he looked at us in the stretch,” Kathleen said.
Dottie Pepper, a golf announcer for CBS and former major champion on the LPGA Tour, occasionally used Piddler as her caddie. She lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and went to watch Commanding Curve with the Martins when he was a 2-year-old.
“He is a character,” Pepper said of Piddler. “Everyone in the barns know him. They all love him.
“I remember watching that  Derby and [my husband] David and I thinking, 'My God, that's Piddler's horse that almost just won!' It's been great to see this through his eyes.”
After Commanding Curve's runner-up finish, Martin was asked if he would rather have his player win the Masters or have ownership in a Kentucky Derby winner.
“At the time, I said if it was Dan Forsman, I'd probably rather win the Masters,” Martin said of his longtime boss. “Now, I'd rather win the Kentucky Derby.”
The sports couldn't be more unlike. It takes four days of strong play to win a golf tournament, but just two minutes to win the Kentucky Derby.
But the similarity is the player – and the horse – can't do it alone. They need help from their caddie or jockey.
At least the horse always knows where he stands in the race, which is not always the case in golf.
Funny thing is, Piddler got his nickname among PGA Tour caddies because he always takes his time.
Saturday, he hopes Tiz the Law will be in plenty of a hurry in the Florida Derby.
“It's going to be Citation, Secretariat and Tiz the Law,” Martin confidently said. “You wait and see.”
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