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Four wins on a Friday night is alright by Andre Martin

Jun 15,2021 Curtis Stock for Horse Racing Alberta

If it's a photo finish, bet on Andre Martin to come out the winner. He never loses. With four more wins on Friday to move into the lead in Century Mile's jockey standings, Jamaica's Martin has been in five photo finishes so far this year. He's won them all.

Missing almost all of last year's races because of Covid-19 restrictions, Martin's first six wins in 2019 were also photo finishes. "I love being in a photo finish. It makes your heart pump," said Martin, 32, who first came to Alberta in 2016. "I don't lose a photo very often."

Martin said the key to winning close races is "All about timing. It's about keeping your composure as a rider." It's also all about Martin being one of the strongest riders down the stretch in Alberta.

"My strength is finishing. I'm a good finisher. I think so anyway," said Martin, who won about 250 races in Jamaica. "When I'm on a horse that likes to come from out of it I try to always remain confident and not press the button too fast."

But he's also very adept on the front-end which is how he won three of his four wins on Friday. And that was despite Martin only having a clear lead in just one of those races.

Martin started Friday's card winning a pressured pace in race No. 4 that saw him four wide during the early part of the race with Striders Ring for leading trainer Tim Rycroft. First he shook loose from Yorktown. Then he had to deal with Greek Geek before finally holding off Eddyshak to win by an open length. Striders Ring paid $9.10 to win.

Then in race No. 7 he was again four wide - this time around the turn. With a cleverly rated ride he won going away with Crafty Engagement for trainer Jerri Robertson, who is really starting to heat up. He won going away by a length and three-quarters. Crafty Engagement paid $14.10 to win.

"A really good ride," said Robertson. "If there's a jockey that deserves to be on top it's Andre. He's a real hard worker. "He's doing a good job and I'm so glad for him," continued Robertson. "I wish him all the best because he's really a good guy."

In race No. 9, Martin was back in the winner's circle with first-time starter No Bakk Talk this time going wire to wire and winning easily by three and three-quarter lengths. Rycroft trained that one too while allowed to go off at better than 5-1 and paying $13.30.

Martin's fourth win was Caledon Summer, yet another Rycroft entrant, in the 11th and final race on the card. Breaking smartly from post 8, Martin was met immediately by both Yukon Mist and Amber Ridge. But Martin kept scrubbing hard on Caledon Summer's neck and, while between horses, had enough left to hold off the late charge of Cagey to win by three lengths. Caledon Summer paid $7.80 as none of Martin's four wins were on favourites.

"I was really looking forward to riding the last two winners because I had been working with both of those horses in the mornings and they had both been training well. The first two wins I really had no clue about. All Tim (Rycroft) said to me before I won with Striders Ring was 'ride a good race.' I was pretty much half shocked winning with those first two mounts. So my confidence really grew after I won with both of them. Because I felt good about the chances of No Bakk Talk and Caledon Summer I was even thinking to myself that I might win five races."

While Martin's strength down the stretch is becoming more and more apparent, he can also win on the front end as he demonstrated with No Bakk Talk. "I rate myself as a very good front rider," said Martin, who has a family back in Jamaica - a wife and four kids ranging from ages of 1 to 12 years-old.

"I like being in front because then I can control the pace. It makes those kind of races a little easier. Most jockeys don't like it when I am in control. I have a good clock in my head. I like to save my horses for the last sixteenth or eighth of a mile."

His father a former trainer in Jamaica who passed away when he was just six years old, Martin has been around horses all his life. "I'm very passionate about horses. I love animals in general but especially horses. I saw a horse before I saw a dog."

Martin said it "might sound crazy" but he rode his first horse when he was just two-years-old. "My dad would put me on a horse to ride around the barn when I was that young. It was my dad who always told me to try and think what a horse is feeling."

When his father died, Martin's mother didn't want Andre to get into horse racing. "She wanted me to keep going to school. She wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. I don't like wearing a suit and tie. I always wanted to be a jockey."

Because the races from North America were on television in Jamaica on a horse racing channel in the mornings and afternoons when he was in school, Martin started to get up early when he was just nine- or ten-years-old and watch the races from Europe.

"I grew up watching a lot of racing from England, Ireland and the United Kingdom. My favourite jockey was Frankie Dettori," he said of the winner of more than 500 Group races. That's why I like to ride on the lead. That was how Frankie rode; he liked to be close to the lead."

When Martin was 15 he took out his apprentice jockey's license. "I went behind my mother's back. She only found out that I had taken out my license because it was on a prime-time sports station."

How did his mother react? "Surprisingly she was happy," said Martin, who graduated from Grade 11 in 2005.

On his first day of riding in a race, Martin got three mounts. "The first one was one of the favourites. The third one was 99-1. He was a miler and we were only going five furlongs. I finished third with both of them."

The next day he got his first win but was disqualified by the stewards. "They said I intimidated another rider. But I was on the rail and I didn't want to give it up." Three weeks later Martin won two races on the same day. He was off to the races.

With last year a write off because of Covid, Martin set a modest goal this year: winning more than 25 race which he did in Alberta in 2019. With Friday's four wins he already has 13 wins which puts him on top of a crowded jockey-leaders board that includes Rafael Zenteno Jr., Antonio Whitehall, Anastasios Charlaris and, of course, Rico Walcott.

"I'm just trying to stay humble and keep busy. I take it one race at a time. If I get to 25 wins I'll push it to 35 wins. If I get 35 wins I'll push it to 50. I want to keep it going. The goal, of course, is to be at the top at the end of this meet. But every jockey wants that."

"That would be a major accomplishment. And you never know. There are no limits. I'm just thankful for the trainers who are giving me some good horses to ride. It really is a good feeling to be able to ride quality horses and give me an opportunity to show my craft. I try my best."

Martin has come alive by winning races and showing other horsemen that he is a very good rider. "People are seeing that and hopefully they lean to me and give me chances to prove myself," said Martin.

"He's finally getting some good opportunities," said his agent Riley Rycroft. "Before he was riding a lot of longshots. He just never had a chance to ride any decent horses before. He's aggressive. He's a hungry guy and he's riding as good as anybody here. He's also a good guy and a hard worker. He sends all his money home to his family in Jamaica."

"I'm giving him a shot," said Tim Rycroft, Riley's brother, who won eight more races this past weekend - four on Friday; four on Sunday. "He lets horses run their own race. Too many jockeys start overthinking. He doesn't get in a horse's way. He keeps a horse on the right lead down the stretch. I'm really happy with the way he rides. He's really dedicated. He wants to move his family over here. He's fit; he jogs after work every day. He's riding some nice horses for me which has allowed him to do a little thinking out there on the track. So far it's paying off."

"He's riding well and he worked hard for me all spring. He galloped for me all spring and he's done a lot of schooling on my babies," said Tim. "One morning he was at my barn before the track opened and he was dumping wheelbarrows. How often do you see the leading rider do that? He was waiting for a horse of mine to work. He saw a couple of full wheelbarrows and he went and dumped them. He's not afraid to get his boots dirty and it's appreciated."

STOCK REPORT -  The first four stakes races go this weekend at Century Mile. The RedTail Landing Handicap for older fillies and mares and The Journal Handicap for older males goes on Friday. The Chariot Chaser for three-year-old fillies and the Western Canada Handicap go Sunday. Both cards start at 6:15 p.m. Entries will be taken Tuesday. B.C.'s Sunburst is nominated to the RedTail Landing. Never worse than third in 11 career starts, Sunburst was last seen taking last year's Northlands Distaff at Century Mile.

The Journal is headed by Maskwecis, who exits a smart allowance victory and who would probably been favoured in last year's Canadian Derby but had to scratch because of a quarter-crack injury. War Giant will be ridden by Martin. The Chariot Chaser's nominations include She Likes to Party, who was undefeated in three starts last year at Century Mile. In the Western Canada there are 15 talented nominees. Dad's Legacy will be ridden by Martin.

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