05/17/2010 12:00AM

Garcia has little time to celebrate


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Martin Garcia glanced at the clock on his cell phone and realized that Saturday night had become Sunday morning.

Hours after he rode Lookin At Lucky to victory in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, the 25-year-old jockey's first classic win, Garcia knew he needed to leave a celebratory dinner party with trainer Bob Baffert and friends to get back to the hotel. In a few hours, he would be on a plane to California, and later that day would be riding at Hollywood Park, including the Baffert-trained Wynning Ride in Sunday's Grade 2 Milady Handicap.

"I felt tired," Garcia recalled. "I told Bob, 'I've got to go. I've got to ride tomorrow for you.' "

Back at his hotel, Garcia snuck a peek at the Preakness replay on his iPhone. It was only then, more than seven hours after he climbed off Lookin At Lucky in the winner's circle, that Garcia realized the magnitude of his accomplishment.

"I started sweating," he said.

Watching the replay made Garcia think about his first Grade 1 victory - the Santa Monica Handicap for Baffert in January - and winning the Santa Anita Handicap on Misremembered for Baffert and Baffert's, wife, Jill.

They were career milestones. This was different.

This was the Preakness, part of the Triple Crown, run before a national television audience and a huge crowd in Baltimore. All those thoughts hit the native of Mexico strongly when he finally turned out the lights.

"I wanted to go to sleep and I couldn't go to sleep," he said. "It was 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock. I couldn't sleep. It was 4 o'clock, and I said, 'That's it. I've got to go,' and took a taxi to the airport."

Sleep would come later. A few hours on the plane en route to LAX, and then in the jockey's room, where he was able to grab a few more hours of rest before riding four races on the program. His best results were two seconds, including Wynning Ride.

Garcia was listed to ride five horses on Sunday, but Sonofablur unseated the jockey at the gate in the ninth race and ran around a backstretch chute before being scratched. Garcia ended his working day on Sunday riding shotgun in the track ambulance, which took him back to the jockeys' room.

It has been an eventful month for Garcia. He rode the Kentucky Derby for the first time, aboard the Baffert-trained Conveyance who led before fading to 15th. Within a week, Garcia had picked up the ride on Lookin At Lucky after Baffert opted to replace Garrett Gomez, who had ridden the colt in all nine of his previous starts.

Garcia recalls feeling overwhelmed when he gained the ride.

"I got so excited," he said. "I was proud and I told Bob I'm not going to disappoint him. I wanted to do a good job."

Before the race, Baffert had simple instructions for Garcia. "He said, 'This track is a little funny,' " Garcia remembered. " 'Try to save some ground on the first turn and then after that, do what you want.' "

Garcia had Lookin At Lucky two wide on the first turn, racing in sixth. On the backstretch, Garcia guided Lookin At Lucky to the outside - and stayed there for the rest of the journey. Lookin At Lucky was four wide on the turn and still wide in early stretch when he took the lead.

"When I had a chance on the backstretch, I went to the outside," Garcia said. "I wanted to be clear. At the three-eighths pole, he was pulling me. I thought it was time to go. He took off."

Even a scare in the stretch from the pesky pacesetter First Dude seemed to motivate Lookin At Lucky.

"The inside horse came back, and it looked like he passed me but my horse took off again," Garcia said. "He ran super."

This has been a super year for Garcia, who has been closely associated with Baffert since last winter. The jockey took the initiative late last year to pester Baffert on a regular basis for a chance to work horses in the morning, hoping to gain mounts. Baffert relented and put Garcia to work.

A few early year wins led to the mount, and a win, on Gabby's Golden Gal in the Santa Monica. Six weeks later, Garcia won the Santa Anita Handicap.

Garcia's success with Baffert has helped push Garcia's earnings this year to $3,981,461, already surpassing the $3.6 million his mounts earned last year. His career-best mark of $6,079,804 set in 2006 is in jeopardy.

Not bad for a jockey who first rode in Northern California in summer 2005, having been urged by friends to quit a job in a deli and begin working as an exercise rider. Within a year, the 5-foot-1-inch Garcia had baten the legendary Russell Baze for the riding title at the 2006 Golden Gate meeting and made the successful transition to the Southern California circuit.

Garcia had no grand celebration planned for Sunday night. After all, he was needed at Baffert's barn at Santa Anita on Monday to work horses. He knew what Saturday's win meant to his career and wants to build on it.

"I am very lucky to be in that barn," he said. "How many jockeys want to be in there? Everyone. I am the one that is in there."