7 August 2015, Pennsylvania, USA ~ Sandee Martin knew what she wanted to be before she could properly say the word jockey. By age 14, she was breaking colts. Now at 47, Martin is an established winning trainer. No longer riding as a professional, she spends time on the track as a member of amateur jockey groups and is a member of Fegentri and the Amateur Riders Club of America (ARCA). In the last few yeas she has traveled the world with Team USA, part of the ARCA. She is known within the group as Miss Congeniality. The words enthusiastic, knowledgable, generous and friendly come to mind. Horsereporter asked Sandee to share her love of horse racing and some of her winning strategy.
HR: Did you always love horses? How did you get started in horse racing?
SM: I lived on a farm when I was a kid. I was on a horse before I could walk. I was super horse crazy. My sister worked at Penn National (a Thoroughbred racing track in Grantville, Pennsylvania) when I was little. She took me to the track when I was about 3 years old. I knew I wanted to be a jockey from the first time I saw a horse race.
HR: How long have you been riding/training race horses?
SM: I started breaking colts when I was 14 at Stone Meadow Farm. I later became a groom and started ponying the races at night at age 16. That summer I started galloping horses on the track. I worked my way up the old-fashioned hard way and certainly appreciate the work ethic it taught me.
HR: Have you had any setbacks to your goal?
SM: I graduated from high school in 1986 then focused on becoming a jockey. In June of 1987, I started my apprenticeship, but before I won my fifth race I went down in a bad spill and broke my back and ribs. I was back riding races in 2 months. I wasn’t letting anything stop me from chasing my dreams.
HR: Did you race/ride Arabians before joining the group that travels to the HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Racing Championship? How did become a rider in this Championship?
SM: In the summer of 1992 while I was still riding professionally I rode at Delaware park and ended up riding about 7 or 8 Arabian races (winning 1 or 2). I had never been around Arabians before that and not for a very long time after that summer. Before the HH series started, Team USA was invited to Abu Dhabi to ride in the first-ever all female jockeys international race. I was called on to represent the USA. I finished 8th.
HR: Where is your facility located? How many horses do you have in training?
SM: I train at Penn National race track and have worked there for over 33 years. I train out of one of the tracks barns and I currently have 23 horses in training there. I have 30+ horses in my care and I own 20 of them myself. We only have thoroughbred racing in Pennsylvania so I have never had the opportunity to train an Arabian. I race all my horses under my stable name Rock Bottom Ranch.
HR: Congratulations on your July win in Pleasanton, California. I know you will be looking to draw a good mount in the November, HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Racing Championship Finale in Abu Dhabi. What are the challenges to win at the Abu Dhabi race track?
SM: The challenge in Abu Dhabi is about drawing a good horse.
HR: Did you know you had a good horse in Sand on Fire at Pleasanton?
SM: I was very pleased when I found out that I drew Sand On Fire. I remembered that she had won the race in Texas and had a huge run from the back to win it. She had also beaten Ms. Dixie in that race and not many horses have beaten her. I was hoping for Ms Dixie to have to push hard from the one post and get caught in a speed duel and wear down as I was getting geared up. I was shocked when she flipped in the gate (and was eliminated). I kept with the same game plan knowing my filly showed a distinct pattern of wanting to come from 10 lengths off of the pace. I read the racing form on the race and imagined a scenario of how it MAY set up and which horses were the most competitive in the race and I studied my filly’s style. Also Scott (the trainer) said the same thing about the filly coming from off the pace and that she was feeling good and ready to run.
HR: How did you ride this race and when did you feel you had a chance to win?
SM: I always ride to win and I was taught early on in my career that the race isn’t over until you cross the finish. I saw One Hot Chick moving strong at the 3/8s pole and knew I couldn’t let her get too big a jump on me so I started asking my filly to run. She slowly started responding to a left-handed whip. She is slow to get into gear, that’s for sure, but she is steady. When we turned for home I knew we had A LOT of work to do to win from there. I remembered noticing in her form that she would sometimes hang at the end of a race so I knew I would have to ride her very hard down the lane. Horses are supposed to switch over to their right lead once they come out of the turn. She did not switch and that is super important for a strong finish. I grabbed the right rein and gave it a hard tug outward to pull her over onto her right lead. Once she switched she instantly kicked into another gear and fired forward. Switching leads can win or lose a race. It helps the horse feel fresh and kick forward. A long time ago I came up with this explanation of what switching leads feels like to a horse. Fill a bucket of water and carry it for a while. When your arm gets tired switch arms, but continue carrying the bucket moving forward. You feel stronger and fresher until that arm gets tired. You are still carrying the same weight, it’s just that you are switching arms (leads) to compensate carrying the weight. Make sense? Try it.
HR: Do you love riding races or training or both?
SM: I really love all aspects of this business. My favorite thing to do is win on a horse that I own and train. That’s the total package. But we don’t offer many amateur races in my area and my body would never hold up to returning as a professional jockey. I have broken 19 bones and had 10 operations. I have metal in my leg and my shoulder. Training and owning horses is a lot less damaging to the body.
HR: What are your future goal(s)?
SM: My 5 year plan is to continue training horses. The riding races part is up to my body and that is holding up pretty well right now. I have been offered a wide variety of jobs and I am not 100% sure what I will do after I stop riding and training horses.
I am on the Board of Directors for my horsemanship group and many committees involved with that. I am also very active in our New Start Race Horse Adoption program. I am considering running for President of the PA HBPA (my horseman’s group) this fall.
It is a true honor to ride for Team USA and I enjoy helping the young riders coming along. These trips with all the girls has been very rewarding. My Father always taught me to “Lead By Example!” And I am always trying to honor him and live that way. I lost my Father, a retired Army Colonel, just over a year ago. He was my Hero And My Biggest Fan.