Lost And Found Presented By LubriSYNHA: Martens Looks Back Fondly On 40th Anniversary Of Belmont Win

June is a special month for former jockey George Martens and his sister Cheryl: both will be celebrating 40th anniversaries of different kinds this year. For George, the sixth day of the month marks the day he guided Summing to victory in the 1981 Belmont Stakes a few days before Cheryl married Tony McNeil. It is easy to imagine the festivities surrounding those occasions with some of racing’s biggest names in attendance four decades ago. Now, their lifestyles are much quieter and far from the energized atmosphere of Belmont Park in the New York City suburbs.

Martens is semi-retired and sharing a home with the McNeils near Remington Park where Tony, who closed his own race riding career in 2012, works as a racing official. Martens’ 1976 Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice is on full display at the residence.

“I am pretty proud of my accomplishments,” Martens said. “I had so many great people who were behind me, from Hall of Famers to people who were just trying to make an ordinary living training horses. I remember almost every single one of them.”

While meandering down memory lane, Martens rattles off names of leading jockeys, stakes winners, famous stables, high-profile horsemen, and lesser knowns that impacted his productive but relatively brief career centered primarily in New York and the East Coast. With generations of jockeys in his pedigree, including his father Buddy, he naturally gravitated to the track.

“I was raised right outside the gate in (the town of) Elmont,” Martens said to underscore Belmont Park’s influence.

He went to the barns with his father whenever time allowed to learn all he could. Not surprisingly, he was skilled enough to obtain his jockey’s license when he turned the minimum age of 16. After those initial two mounts in 1974, Martens established himself within the legendary New York jockey colony that included eventual Hall of Famers Angel Cordero Jr., Jorge Velasquez, and Jacinto Vasquez.

“When I started, I was real shy,” Martens said. “I learned so much competing with them every day. They were all great help to me.”

He rode 70 winners in 1975 and another 105 while still an apprentice in his 1976 Eclipse Award season. He transitioned seamlessly when his weight allowance expired later that year and closed his championship season with a career-high 132 victories including 27 as a newly minted journeyman.

Some years were statistically far better than others and with just one win in 1988, Martens decided he was more comfortable being a morning rider. He lost 30 pounds to make a brief comeback in 1995. His record stands at 888 victories including Grade 1 scores in the aforementioned Belmont, the 1986 Selima Stakes on Collins and 1981 United Nations Handicap on his all-time favorite Key to Content.

Martens’ life reached a turning point in 2008 when his father was diagnosed with a terminal illness and he relocated from Florida to the outskirts of Oklahoma City, where his parents had retired to be near the McNeils and their children. He spent about five years as an exercise rider for Steve Asmussen and then became a jockey’s valet at Remington Park. The track is 1,500 miles southwest of Belmont Park where 60,000-plus watched Summing capture the third leg of the Triple Crown under a hometown celebrity. Echoes of that afternoon no doubt will be heard again this month when the Martens and McNeil families celebrate the milestone anniversaries.

“There is no better feeling that I can have in my life now than reminiscing about racing during the best times of my life,” Martens said. “I have made so many friends with people in the horse business. If it wasn’t for the horses, I wouldn’t know all these good people who are involved in racing. That is what I take out of what my accomplishments mean to me.”

The post Lost And Found Presented By LubriSYNHA: Martens Looks Back Fondly On 40th Anniversary Of Belmont Win appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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