Victor Martinez dreams of Kentucky Derby glory

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August 31st, 2020

When Victor Martinez falls asleep now, he’s no longer dreaming of fast balls right down the middle of the plate. He’s dreaming of a garland of roses, and honoring a father lost early in life.

"I go to bed at night and see King Guillermo crossing the finish line first, and it makes me want to stay up," Martinez said. "I’ve always been a dreamer, so we’ll see what happens."

Before he entered the world of Thoroughbred racing, Martinez was a five-time MLB All-Star. He spent 16 years hitting dingers around the American League, where he tallied 246 home runs and 1,178 RBIs.

Now, in his retirement, Martinez’s competitive spirit is alive and well, and it is channeled into his horse, King Guillermo. Named after Martinez’s father, who died when Martinez was just seven years old, King Guillermo comes into the Kentucky Derby (G1) having not raced since he finished second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on May 2.

"He’s a nice and calm horse," Martinez said. "Everybody knows he’s not a big horse with a big body. He has talent. He has a lot of heart. He surprised me. Like I said, we’re just hoping for him to have a clean race."

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King Guillermo cruises around the track. (Photo by Coady Photography)

One adjustment Martinez has had to make in this new athletic venture is the acceptance of that harsh truth any horseman or horseplayer knows — much of it is out of your control.

"In my career, everything was in my control," Martinez said. "I could control everything, you know? And I knew if I was healthy and had good workouts, I knew what I was capable to do. Facing a pitcher or whatever, I know what I can do.

"But with this horse, you can’t do anything about it. The horse wants to train and do good, then you’re just praying that he does a good job. It’s a lot going on that has to be right to win a race."

After the colt trains for the Derby at Churchill Downs, Martinez sits in the barn and watches his horse cool out, cheering him on with each trip around the barn.

"And the champion is King Guillermo," Martinez says in Spanish, as the horse comes down shedrow.

He has also thought about the walkover to the paddock Saturday afternoon and says he knows he’ll be emotional.

"I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know what’s going to happen," Martinez said. "For sure I think tears are going to come out. It’s just a sensational moment."