Jockey Martin Garcia never really left, but his riding resurgence in 2020 abruptly ended when he fractured his collarbone in an Oct. 18 spill at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Garcia got on horses for the first time since the accident Dec. 27 at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark., where he made a huge splash last year in his debut as a regular, tying for second in the standings with 53 victories.
“I’ve had 2 ½ months,” Garcia said. “I’m not 100 percent yet, but I will be. The bone doesn’t hurt, so I think that’s the main thing.”
Garcia, 36, has been working horses for trainers like Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Brad Cox and Steve Hobby in preparation for the 2021 Oaklawn meeting that is scheduled to begin Jan. 22. Once an A-lister in Southern California, breezing or riding many of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s elite runners, Garcia relocated to the Midwest in late 2019 because of dwindling business on the West Coast.
Garcia finished his abbreviated 2020 season with 73 victories and $4,180,401 in purse earnings, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. The win total was Garcia’s highest since 2015. Garcia’s purse earnings were his highest since 2016.
“I had a great year,” Garcia said. “I rode a lot of nice horses. Besides riding good horses, I was winning. I was very happy.”
Garcia pushed perennial champion Ricardo Santana Jr. for the Oaklawn riding title, trailing 54-51 entering the final three days of the 57-day season. Garcia finished with 53 victories, after losing two wins via disqualifications, from 285 mounts and purse earnings of $2,472,702.
Joe Talamo, in his first season as an Oaklawn regular after previously being based in Southern California, also rode 53 winners. Santana wound up with 61.
Garcia had opened the 2020 Oaklawn meeting by winning the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds aboard Gold Street for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and added the $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes for older female sprinters about a month later aboard Midnight Fantasy for trainer Joe Sharp.
“I think it would be good if you win the title, but if you’re winning the big races like those, that’s where it counts,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s post-Oaklawn highlight was a three-quarter length victory aboard Harvey’s Lil Goil in the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (G1) Oct. 10 at Keeneland for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. After running 11th in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) May 1 at Oaklawn, Harvey’s Lil Goil flourished in her return to turf.
In addition to the grassy QE II, Garcia also guided the daughter of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to a head victory in the $100,000 Regret Stakes (G3) on the turf June 27 at Churchill Downs. Harvey’s Lil Goil finished third, beaten a neck, in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
After missing the Breeders’ Cup because of injury, Garcia will now try to build on his Oaklawn resume, which features 59 victories, including six stakes, since 2010.
“Just keep riding for, I hope, everybody,” Garcia said. “I hope whoever gives me a chance, I’ll take advantage of it.”
A native of Mexico, Garcia has amassed 1,632 victories and $91,615,021 in purse earnings since launching his career in the United Stakes in 2005, according to Equibase. He won the 2010 Preakness aboard the Baffert-trained champion Lookin At Lucky and is a four-time Breeders’ Cup winner. All four of Garcia’s Breeders’ Cup victories (Drefong, Bayern, New Year’s Day and Secret Circle) have been for Baffert.
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