Jockey lands mounts with Baffert, others

Feb 2, 2010 5:08 PM

Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

Martin’s star is rising

"Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance."–Samuel Johnson.

 

Any good jockey agent knows that. But they also recognize that knocking on doors doesn’t guarantee they’ll open. Agents can spin trainers more than Robert Gibbs at a presidential news conference, and vice versa. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship.

 

Long-term associations between rider and agent are established on trust, loyalty, compromise and, of course, success. But in the fickle business of horse racing, where agents represent jockeys and do their bidding with owners and trainers in an effort to get them on a winning mount, ties of longevity are the exception rather than the rule.

One that promises to have an extended life is the recent bonding between agent Vic Stauffer and jockey Joel Rosario. In less than two years under Stauffer’s tutelage, Rosario has become the proverbial overnight sensation. To the benefit of bettors, however, the 25-year-old native of the Dominican Republic continues to fly under the mutuel wagering radar. Where punters generally take the worst of it backing marquee jocks like Garrett Gomez, Rafael Bejarano and Victor Espinoza, Rosario’s return on investment ratio remains relatively generous.

Enter Martin Garcia. Another 25-year-old, this native of Veracruz, Mexico, also is represented by Stauffer, who is better known as the track announcer at Hollywood Park. Garcia has gone through several agents since 2003, when he arrived in the United States and through a friend, landed a job in a Bay Area deli before hooking on as an exercise rider at Pleasanton. Taking nothing for granted, Garcia continued to work two days a week as a cook at the deli while pursuing his career as a jockey.

It’s that kind of dedication that has brought Garcia to the threshold of prominence with three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, a recent Hall of Fame inductee who trains this year’s Future Book Derby favorite, 2009 male 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky. Stauffer admits he had little, if anything, to do with Garcia’s gaining access to Baffert’s quality stock.

Garcia won the first Grade I stakes of his career Saturday when he piloted Gabby’s Golden Gal to a 12-1 upset in the Santa Monica Handicap.

"I’m very pleased with Joel, but more so right now with Martin (pronounced Mar-TEEN)," Stauffer said. "I’m so proud of him, because when you consider the two marquee horses and barns that he rides for, it’s totally a testament to him." In addition to Baffert, Stauffer was alluding to multiple stakes-winning sprinter Kinsale King, trained by the emotional young Irishman, Carl O’Callaghan.

"The day Martin won an allowance race at 60-1 on Kinsale King is the day that mount became available," Stauffer continued. "No other jock in the room wanted to ride the horse, because he was 60-1, but Martin said he would be happy to ride him. And he won. That speaks of Martin’s work ethic and his philosophy of never saying no to anybody.

"As far as Martin riding for Baffert, his previous agent (Nick Cosato) and I had nothing to do with that. That resulted from Martin going to Baffert’s barn every morning at 4:30 and saying, ‘Please give me a chance, please give me a chance, please give me a chance.’

"So this trail that he’s blazing is 1,000 percent his doing, because of his resolve. Hopefully, I’ll be able to expand on that and take advantage of it, but it’s all about Martin. That’s why I’m so happy and proud of him."

Stauffer, a bear of a man, also must feel good about gleaning 25 percent of his riders’ purse earnings, the standard fee for an agent. That’s not always written in granite, however. The scale can vary, depending on supply and demand.

While Rosario is battling Bejarano, Espinoza and Gomez for the Santa Anita riding title, and Garcia is in the top 10 with a bullet, Stauffer isn’t about to give up his day job. The pay is good, and the comfort level is considerably greater than suffering the slings and arrows of agenting, despite its inherent rewards.

"It’s about 3,742 percent easier to call races," Stauffer said. "It’s second nature to me by now, and there is very little gray area. I’m experienced enough that I know how to cover any mistakes, and the rare ones that occur are usually over in a minute. Then it’s on to the next race. But being an agent is a 24/7 job, and any errors tend to linger for a while."

Although thanks to Rosario and Garcia, not lately.

THE HOMESTRETCH

Look for unbeaten Kentucky Derby hopeful Conveyance to make his next start on dirt for Bob Baffert, in either the one-mile Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 15 or the 11/16-mile Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 20 …Freezing temperatures hit Florida last week, and Aqueduct, Oaklawn and Laurel Park were forced to cancel racing because of winter storms. Global warming … And if you don’t like this column, blame Bush.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden