02/03/2016 10:06AM

Martinez eager to see how Street Fancy stacks up against Songbird

Benoit & Associates
Street Fancy, ridden by Mike Smith, won the Grade 1 Starlet at Los Alamitos in December.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Mark Martinez made an attempt to sell Street Fancy – on his terms.

Last February, Street Fancy went through the ring at the Barretts sale of select 2-year-olds in training in Pomona, Calif., but was bought back for $400,000. Martinez recalled recently that live bidding stopped at $385,000, short of the reserve of $419,000.

Nearly a year later, Martinez has a filly worth more.

Street Fancy won the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos in December and has earned $223,200. On Saturday, she makes her 2016 debut in the $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going a mile at Santa Anita. The Las Virgenes will not be an easy assignment. The race favorite is the undefeated Songbird, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2015.

Martinez, who races as Agave Racing and lives in San Antonio, Texas, has realistic expectations.

“There are many that believe that Songbird is not just the best filly but the best horse in the country,” he said last weekend. “Our filly is moving forward and maturing. We’ve given her a bit of time. The goal is the first Friday in May. Songbird will give us a good gauge of where we sit.”

Whether Street Fancy runs in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 6 will depend on how she performs in the Grade 2 Las Virgenes and in March and April. So far, Street Fancy has performed well amid high expectations in three starts for Martinez and trainer Phil D’Amato.

The two met in the Santa Anita barn area in the days after the Barretts sale, when D’Amato agreed to train for Martinez. D’Amato was told to take his time with Street Fancy. She did not race during the summer, largely by design, Martinez said.

“Everyone has their eyes on Del Mar,” Martinez said. “Early on, I had a conversation with Phil. I said, ‘I’m not in a hurry. You take your time. Get her ready.’ ”

Street Fancy won her debut in a maiden race at 5 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita in October. She then finished a fast-closing third after a poor start in the $100,000 Desi Arnaz Stakes at seven furlongs at Del Mar in November.

The Starlet Stakes at 1 1/16 miles was a distance test for Street Fancy. Ridden by Mike Smith, she was in trouble early, fell back to seventh of nine, and closed well on the inside through the long stretch to win by a length.

“It probably touched every emotion you can go through in a minute,” Martinez said. “She got in a little tight early, and Mike had to ease her back. She looked like she settled. On the turn, I thought maybe it’s not our day. She turned for home, Mike tapped her a few times, and she started making her move. She ran the kind of race that has my phone ringing.”

Street Fancy is Martinez’s first Grade 1 winner. He has been involved in racing for 10 years and has run horses in California, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Martinez, 58, was part of the Bongo Racing syndicate in California many years ago, before he took an independent path.

“I got into the syndicate route because I was new to the business and I needed to turn the reins over to someone else,” Martinez said. “That was right for me. I moved over and started owning horses myself. I’m starting to bring on partners again so I can own more and higher quality.”

Martinez owns an information technology company in Texas that provides computer programs to the federal government. This spring, he has six prospects to be offered at 2-year-old sales, some of whom may be kept for racing if they don’t sell. He is advised on bloodstock by Jeff and Kathleen Hebert of Louisiana, who acquired Street Fancy as a yearling.

Street Fancy, by Street Sense, has become a major stakes winner who faces a big task against Songbird in the Las Virgenes.

“We’re coming out to see where we stand,” Martinez said. “She’s training well. We may be hooking the best horse in the country. We may find out we have more work to do.”