Updated on 09/15/2011 12:29PM

Martinez wins, wins, wins


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There in the national trainer standings through June 24, right above a guy named Bill Mott, is Ralph Martinez, 24, who trains at tiny Fairmount Park and has already amassed 69 wins this season. Martinez leads the Fairmount standings by 23 winners and has plundered Chicago purses all year, often driving his own stock the four-plus hours between Collinsville, Ill., and Chicago.

At Sportsman's Park this spring, Martinez did so well - winning nine races from 27 starters - that the lone owner for whom he trains, Lou O'Brien, won the owner's title.

Martinez is a second-generation trainer, and his father, Ralph, still plays an active role in the business. "My dad's taught me everything I could dream of," Martinez said from Fairmount on Monday. "He's a damn genius." The elder Martinez came to the U.S. from Cuba "with one of the Barrera brothers," Martinez said, and ended up working for the Hall of Fame trainer Laz Barrera.

After Martinez's younger sister died in a car accident a couple years ago, his father began scaling back his involvement with the business, leaving more and more responsibility to his son. "I started working for dad as long ago as I can remember," Martinez said. "I had a playpen at the barn."

Martinez's father has known O'Brien for about 20 years, and Martinez loves training for a single committed owner who is patient and understands the demands of the game. "We have a farm three miles away. If a horse needs some time, we can send them there for a month."

Time and patience have helped Martinez make good on many recent claims, which form the backbone of his operation. "We've been really fortunate claiming horses in Chicago," Martinez said. Martinez likes to claim a Chicago horse with allowance conditions, win those conditions at Fairmount, and then send the horse into starter-allowance company. Some of his starter horses have become so dominant in southern Illinois, Martinez said, that they can't run at Fairmount any longer because rival trainers won't send out horses to face them.

Martinez plans to ship several starter-allowance types to Arlington during the summer and will run extensively at Ellis Park in Kentucky. He also has a couple horses for the Claiming Crown at Canterbury Park.

How long Fairmount can hold him? "Of course, you think about getting bigger," Martinez said. But, he added, "I don't know about Chicago. There's been plenty of people that asked me to take horses up there. As long as dad's here, though, I'm going to stick with Fairmount. The better horses we have we can always ship."

Even if Martinez has to drive them himself.

Turf comes alive

Arlington's turf stakes season gets under way in earnest this weekend with a pair of graded races, the Arlington Classic on Saturday and the Stars and Stripes on Sunday.

The $200,000 Classic, a Grade 2 run at nine furlongs, is restricted to 3-year-olds and is the first leg of the Mid-America Triple, a three-race turf series that culminates in the Grade 1 Secretariat on Arlington Million Day. Early this week, the field for the Classic still was taking shape, but was likely to include Strategic Partner, Baptize, Fan Club's Mister, Rahy's Secret, and Cherokee Kim. Racing officials here expected to attract a field of seven or eight when the race is drawn Thursday.

The likely favorite, Strategic Partner, is based at Churchill for trainer Mark Hennig, and won the Crown Royal American Turf on Kentucky Derby Day and finished second, beaten a neck, in Churchill's Jefferson Cup in his last start. The Bill Mottt-trained Baptize lost by a nose to Strategic Partner in the Crown Royal, then was well beaten as the favorite on a soft turf course in the Diamond USA Stakes at Lone Star.

Fan Club's Mister and Rahy's Secret, both locally based, finished one-two in the $100,000 Canterbury Breeders' Cup Derby early this month.

A field of about eight, headed by defending champion Williams News, is expected for the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes, a 12-furlong race.