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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Tampa Bay/HRI Staff –Because King Guillermo took advantage of favorable dynamics and won the Tampa Bay Derby at 49-1, there is a tendency to take the performance as an aberration.

That might prove to be an attitude that will have a debilitating effect on Kentucky Derby bankrolls. Leading divisional contenders notwithstanding, it takes a very good horse to perform at such a high level against such a very solid field of rivals .

Of course, the fairytale nature of the story is inescapable and tends to distort the accomplishment that was on display in Oldsmar last weekend. And it shouldn’t be trivialized just because it’s a heartwarming story

Victor Martinez and Samy Camacho met for the first the Wednesday before the Derby. By the time they finished talking, they shared a belief that the unsung 3-year-old colt King Guillermo could win the Grade II event.

“Samy said ‘If this horse keeps going like he has been in his workouts, we’re winning the race,’ ” said Martinez, the retired major league baseball slugger who owns King Guillermo under his Victoria’s Ranch banner. “It gave me such a great feeling. He had so much faith in the horse, it gave me a lot of confidence.”

King Guillermo sped to a 4 ¾-length victory to defeat favorite Sole Volante in a time of 1:42.63 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance, the third-fastest time in the race’s 40-year history.

The Kentucky-bred son of Uncle Mo earned 50 qualifying points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby,” virtually assuring him of a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.

Martinez said he and trainer Juan Carlos Avila have discussed the plans and the likelihood is that King Guillermo could go to the Kentucky Derby off victory. He had last raced Nov. 30 before taking the Tampa Bay Derby.

And Camacho will be there with them, Martinez said.

“He put him in the Kentucky Derby, he’ll ride him in the Kentucky Derby,” Martinez said.

Camacho, like Martinez and Avila a product of Venezuela, felt an instant kinship upon meeting Martinez, who retired after the 2018 season with 246 home runs, 1,178 runs batted in and a .295 batting average in 16 seasons with the Indians, Red Sox and Tigers.

“We talked about everything – about business, about life, about baseball – and the thing that was most important to him was that I had faith in the horse,” Camacho said. “He’s a humble person who loves racing.

“I had asked Juan Carlos Avila two weeks ago to ride this horse, because I love how he runs,” Camacho said.

Although he had not ridden King Guillermo, Camacho based his confidence on the replays of King Guillermo’s first three races, all as a 2-year-old, including a third-place finish on Nov. 30 in the Pulpit Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream. That race was won by Sole Volante.

“I just wanted to break well because we were in the No. 11 post, and it’s a short run to the first turn,” Camacho said. “The only thing we needed was for him to be relaxed and comfortable and we got good position. I made one run between the half-mile pole and the 3/8-mile pole and he showed what he can do.”

King Guillermo is one of three horses purchased by Martinez at last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s April Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. The others, 3-year-old filly Princess Coro and 3-year-old colt Tio Wil, are still maidens. King Guillermo was a $150,000 purchase.

He is named for Martinez’s father, Guillermo Martinez, who died when he was 6. Martinez had most of his family at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday: his mother, Margot; wife Margret and their three daughters, Maria Victoria, Barbara Victoria and Camila Victoria; his brother, David Guillermo Martinez; and his sister, Olga Martinez. His son, 15-year-old Victor Jose, was playing a baseball game.

For observers with long memories, the frenzied atmosphere in the winner’s circle afterward awoke visions of Canonero II, who came from Venezuela in 1971 to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Victoria’s Ranch is named for Martinez’s three daughters. The family lives in Orlando, and he owns a cattle ranch in Okeechobee.

He received congratulatory calls after the race from former Tigers teammates Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez, now with the Washington Nationals. “I’ve been telling them that someday I would have a horse in the Kentucky Derby, and it looks like that dream has come true. It’s been crazy,” Martinez said.

Camacho took his family to Señor Tequila Mexican Grill after the race and planned to turn in early, but didn’t fall asleep until after 4 a.m. “I watched the replay like 100 times, and we stayed up all night talking about the race and the Kentucky Derby, too,” he said. “If that horse goes to China, I’ll go there.

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