10/07/2010 2:00PM

'Bulldog' always in the hunt


FORT ERIE, Ontario – They call him the Bulldog.

Marty Mercieca has been riding Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses for more than 30 years, and the moniker comes from his tenacity.

Once the Bulldog sets his mind to something, he stays at it.

Mercieca began the 2010 racing season at the Fort. Working as his own agent, in the first few weeks he was aboard 21 runners, winning with three and placing five times.

But Mercieca also has Quarter Horse racing in his blood, and soon he was off to Ajax Downs, Ontario, where he has won 35 races and is fifth in the standings at that track.

“I like riding both breeds equally as well,” said Mercieca, “but the year at Ajax has been great, so I have been putting in time down there and luckily winning my share of the races.”

Last weekend the Quarter Horses began a short meet here, with eight races on the first three Saturdays in October and then a final eight races over the closing weekend of the Fort Erie season, when Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses will go head to head.

Mercieca had the call on six runners last Saturday and proceeded to win four races, including a $35,000 stakes.

“It was great to be back home and on a winning streak,” said Mercieca.

“There is a difference between the two breeds. With a Quarter Horse you have to be sharp and yet have them relaxed at the same time. The break from the gate is extremely important.”

Mercieca will be aboard nine runners this Saturday, including Miss Bedlan in the 350-yard $35,000 added Lady of the Lakes Stakes.

“I am looking forward to the rest of the meet,” he said. “The final weekend has the two breeds hooking up. The Thoroughbred will have the experience factor, but do not discount the good Quarter Horse. I will be aboard one of them and looking to better the home Thoroughbred speedsters.”

Mercieca had additional insight on the Quarter Horses.

“Some people think the name means that they can only go a 1/4 mile, 440 yards, but actually that description is a misnomer,” he said. “Some of them have no problem going five furlongs.

“Don’t be surprised if in a head-to-head battle, a Quarter Horse wins a $50,000 stakes race on the final weekend.”

Mercieca, at age 50, is lean and wiry. His small frame is all muscle.

“I like to keep in top shape, and it does pay off in the long run, in racing and with life in general,” said Mercieca “I do have other things on the go. Off season, I love to do renovations, and to the highest professional standards.”

Adding to the mystique of the Bulldog is his excellent background on computers.

“Solving someone’s computer problems turns me on,” said Mercieca. “It is a different kind of challenge, and it is certainly gratifying to send a customer away with a smile on his face.”

◗ Tuesday’s card was canceled after the fourth race as heavy rains continued to pound the racing surface.