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March 08, 2020


by Mike Henry
Churchill Downs has received a $6,000 late nomination payment from Victoria's Ranch owner Victor Martinez, making Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner King Guillermo eligible for the Triple Crown.

Victor Martinez and Samy Camacho met for the first time on March 4, three days before the race that would, to some degree, change their lives. By the time they finished talking, they shared a belief that Martinez's unsung 3-year-old colt King Guillermo could win the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

“Samy said ‘If this horse keeps going like he has been in his workouts, we’re winning the race,’ ” said Martinez, the retired major league baseball slugger who owns King Guillermo under his Victoria’s Ranch banner. “It gave me such a great feeling. He had so much faith in the horse, it gave me a lot of confidence.”

king guillermo

Owner Victor Martinez, third from left, leads King Guillermo and jockey Samy Camacho into the winner's circle on March 7 after their upset triumph in the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (courtesy SV Photography)

King Guillermo, who paid $100.40 to win, justified that belief, speeding to a 4 ¾-length victory from favorite Sole Volante in a time of 1:42.63 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance, the third-fastest time in the race’s 40-year history.

The Kentucky-bred son of Uncle Mo earned 50 qualifying points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby,” virtually assuring him of a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.

Martinez made the required $6,000 late nomination payment Tuesday to make King Guillermo eligible for the Triple Crown races: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Martinez said he and trainer Juan Carlos Avila will discuss the plans for their next move over the next several days, but there’s a chance King Guillermo could go to the Kentucky Derby off Saturday’s victory. He had last raced Nov. 30 before the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

And Camacho will be at Churchill Downs with them, Martinez said.

“He put him in the Kentucky Derby, he’ll ride him in the Kentucky Derby,” Martinez said.

Camacho, like Martinez and Avila a product of Venezuela, felt an instant kinship upon meeting Martinez, who retired after the 2018 season with 246 home runs, 1,178 runs batted in and a .295 batting average in 16 seasons with the Indians, Red Sox and Tigers.

“We talked about everything – about business, about life, about baseball – and the thing that was most important to him was that I had faith in the horse,” Camacho said. “He’s a humble person who loves racing.

“I had asked Juan Carlos Avila two weeks ago to ride this horse, because I love how he runs,” Camacho said.

Although he had not ridden King Guillermo, Camacho based his confidence on the replays of King Guillermo’s first three races, all as a 2-year-old, including a third-place finish on Nov. 30 in the Pulpit Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream. That race was won by Sole Volante.

“I just wanted to break well (Saturday) because we were in the No. 11 post, and it’s a short run to the first turn,” Camacho said. “The only thing we needed was for him to be relaxed and comfortable, and we got good position (behind pace-setter Relentless Dancer). I made one run between the half-mile pole and the 3/8-mile pole and he showed what he can do.”

King Guillermo is one of three horses purchased by Martinez at last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s April Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. The others, 3-year-old filly Princess Coro and 3-year-old colt Tio Wil, are still maidens. King Guillermo was a $150,000 purchase.

He is named for Martinez’s father, Guillermo Martinez, who died when he was 6. Martinez had most of his family at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday: his mother, Margot; wife Margret and their three daughters, Maria Victoria, Barbara Victoria and Camila Victoria; his brother, David Guillermo Martinez; and his sister, Olga Martinez. His son, 15-year-old Victor Jose, was playing a baseball game.

For observers with long memories, the frenzied atmosphere in the Tampa Bay Downs winner’s circle afterward awoke visions of Canonero II, who came from Venezuela in 1971 to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Victoria’s Ranch is named for Martinez’s three daughters. The family lives in Orlando, and he owns a cattle ranch in Okeechobee.

He received congratulatory calls after the race from former Tigers teammates Miguel Cabrera, who is still with Detroit, and Anibal Sanchez, now with the Washington Nationals. “I’ve been telling them that someday I would have a horse in the Kentucky Derby, and it looks like that dream has come true. It’s been crazy,” Martinez said.

Camacho took his family to Señor Tequila Mexican Grill after the race and planned to turn in early, but didn’t fall asleep until after 4 a.m. “I watched the replay like 100 times, and we stayed up all night talking about the race and the Kentucky Derby, too,” he said. “If that horse goes to China, I’ll go there.”  

Around the ovals. David Flores insists he isn’t making a comeback. The rider of such top horses as Zenyatta, Silver Charm, Siphon, Awesome Gem, Street Boss and Marquetry, who rode 3,608 winners from 1984-2017, competed in a race for the first time in more than two-and-a-half years, riding Calypso Key to a fifth-place finish in Sunday's sixth race on the turf, less than three lengths behind winner Finest Jewel.

The 52-year-old Flores also trains Calypso Key for breeder-owner Firefly Farm Racing. Flores, who has nine horses in training, saddled his first career winner as a conditioner, Higgins, at Tampa Bay Downs on March 15 of 2019.

“I just want to ride some of my own. I retired, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped riding,” Flores said. “I ride at least 10 horses a day at Classic Mile (in Ocala) – some for myself and some babies going to the 2-year-old sales in March. So I’ve stayed active the whole time.

“We might have to change something with this horse, so I decided to ride her to be able to make a decision on my own,” Flores said of Calypso Key, a 5-year-old mare who has yet to finish in the money in five starts.

Flores, who hopes to take a string to Monmouth Park this summer, said he has also begun studying physical conformation and the sales scene with an eye toward becoming involved in more facets of the sport. “The more education I get, the more it’s going to help me in the business,” he said.

Under a well-timed ride by jockey Pablo Morales, first-time starter Point Him Out won Sunday's featured eighth race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf, a maiden special weight affair for 3-year-olds. The gelding is owned by Niall J. Brennan and trained by Michael Stidham.