Tampa Bay Downs jockey Willie Martinez knows it only takes one good horse to help you realize your dreams.
Martinez, who rode Trinniberg to victory in the Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint last November at Santa Anita, departs Tuesday for the United Arab Emirates and a return engagement with the 4-year-old colt in the $2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Gulf News on Saturday, March 30 at Meydan Racecourse.
The 1,200-meter (about six furlongs) race is part of a nine-race card capped by the $10-million Dubai World Cup. The Golden Shaheen, which is the sixth race on the card, will be contested at 7:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time) and be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Dubai World Cup will be run at about 2:05 p.m. EDT.
“We wouldn’t trade places with anybody else,” said the 42-year-old Martinez, a native of Santurce, Puerto Rico who is making his third trip to Dubai. “You can never be too confident in this game, but we’re going there to prove Trinniberg is not only the best U.S. sprinter, but the best in the world. That would be awesome to achieve.”
Trinniberg, who is owned by Sherry Parbhoo and trained by her father, Shivananda Parbhoo, won the 2012 Eclipse Award as Outstanding Male Sprinter in North America on the basis of his Breeders’ Cup victory. He also won the Grade II Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont, the Grade III Bay Shore at Aqueduct and the Grade III Swale at Gulfstream, all with Martinez in the saddle.
Martinez traveled to Gulfstream on March 13 to work Trinniberg five furlongs from the gate in 1:01.32 on a cuppy surface, a move he believes set him up perfectly for the Golden Shaheen.
“I was really happy with the way he felt physically. Mentally, I feel the time off (the Breeders’ Cup Sprint was Nov. 3) is going to do him a lot of good,” Martinez said. “He always runs his best races off a layoff when he is fresh, so we have to hope he takes to the (all-weather) Tapeta surface. We think he’ll be OK, but it’s not what we think or how we feel – when we get there, he has to show up that day.”
The Golden Shaheen will be Trinniberg’s first race over a synthetic surface and that is a question mark, but Martinez believes in his colt’s talent. “He can handle the pressure of being at the front, but he can be rated. He is brilliant fast and can kick from the eighth pole to the wire. If he takes the trip well, I expect him to be right there.”
As with any race run for a $2-million purse, the competition will be extreme. Among those expected to compete are defending Golden Shaheen champion Krypton Factor; Emcee, who won the Grade I Forego Stakes at Saratoga last summer; Reynaldothewizard, who beat Krypton Factor two weeks ago in the Mahab Al Shimaal on Meydan’s Super Saturday card; Australian Group I winner Mental and South Africa’s Kavanagh, who finished 1-2 ahead of Krypton Factor in last month’s Al Shindagha Sprint at Meydan; and the improving Private Zone, second at Santa Anita this season in both the Grade I Malibu and Grade II Palos Verdes.
Martinez went to Dubai last year to ride Giant Ryan for the Parbhoos, finishing fifth in the Golden Shaheen. His first trip to the desert in 2006 resulted in a second-place finish aboard Brass Hat in the Dubai World Cup.
After that race, trace amounts of a prohibited substance were found in Brass Hat’s system and the purse money was withheld. “That was a big blow, but you move on with time,” Martinez said. “To get redemption for that would be nice, but I’m not going there with that mindset. I think Trinniberg is going to bring a lot to the table, and I just hope he runs the way we expect him to run.”
Martinez has grown close to the Parbhoo family, which moved to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago 30 years ago. Shivananda (called “Ralph” by his friends) took over the training of Trinniberg from his father, Bisnath Parboo, last summer. He added blinkers for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and was rewarded with a lifetime achievement with a horse the family purchased for $21,000 as a 2-year-old. His career earnings are $1,483,300.
“We have a good chemistry,” Martinez said. “The Parbhoos have a beautiful family, they show me love and they have a lot of faith in me. That means a lot to me and my family, to help make those dreams come true. They always knew I believed in Trinniberg. I’m just so glad to be able to be such a big part of the team, because I’ve put a lot of sweat and blood into it.”
Last summer, while racing at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., Martinez and his agent Doug Davis would drive to Saratoga every weekend to work Trinniberg, sleeping for a couple of hours en route in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot.
Now, Martinez is about to take a flying carpet named Trinniberg halfway around the world for a shot at international racing acclaim. “Dubai is a beautiful city, and they do everything they can to impress you,” Martinez said. “They want to do everything bigger and better, and they do. It is a very unique culture – really, a mix of all kinds of cultures in one place.
“I want to see the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, at 2,722 feet) and the Palm Islands and the mall, which has 1,100 stores, and take some pictures. But I’m going there to do my job. It’s a working vacation, and I’m very focused on what I have to do.”
The Dubai World Cup is shaping up as one of the most anticipated races in recent memory. Among those expected to compete are defending champion Monterosso, owned by Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed’s Eclipse Award-winning Godolphin enterprise; reigning Eclipse Award Champion Older Female, Royal Delta, trained by Hall of Famer William Mott; 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom; and Dullahan, winner last year of both the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass and Grade I TVG Pacific Classic.
Tampa Bay Downs offers a 10-race Thoroughbred card Friday beginning at 12:40 p.m. Saturday’s 11-race program features the fourth legs of the Tampa Turf Test going a mile-and-three-eighths. The Fillies and Mares Division will be the fourth race and the Colts and Geldings Division will be the eighth race. Both contests offer a purse of $27,000.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter Sunday, March 31 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.