Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Carlos Garcia, Trainer


From 1989-95, trainer Carlos Garcia saddled 438 winners and accumulated almost $8 million in purse earnings, his face almost as familiar to Maryland sports fans as Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. A few years earlier Garcia trained Squan Song, who won 18 of 36 starts, including 14 stakes, and was voted top Maryland-bred filly or mare four consecutive years. He also was responsible for the development of Breeders’ Cup champions Safely Kept and Countess Diana. After spending last season as a jockey’s agent for Jesse Garcia – his first break from training in 40 years – the Argentinean conditioner returned with a flourish at Tampa Bay Downs, winning the Jan. 7 Pelican Stakes with Robert Gerczak’s 5-year-old gelding Action Andy. The triumph was doubly rewarding for Action Andy’s connections, since the horse had almost succumbed as a 2-year-old to wobbler’s syndrome, a spinal cord malformation. Garcia has three sons and a daughter and two granddaughters.

Before I was a jockey’s agent for Jesse Garcia (no relation) and Brian Pedroza, who is also here at Tampa, I’d had every job on the racetrack other than working in the racing office. In the late 1960s I was a groom for Laz Barrera, who trained the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed. He was a teacher and he didn’t mind me asking questions.
He had a tremendous eye for the horses and if one was sore or a little off, he usually knew where the problem was. Sometimes he was more accurate than the vet. One of the biggest things I learned from him was to use my eyesight – to make a figure in my mind the way the horse is supposed to travel across the ground, and judge from that.
Every horse is an individual and they all have a different way of going. Once you put that picture in your mind and know how that horse is supposed to go, and you see something is not going that way, you know something is wrong. And if the rider tells me something, I listen because sometimes the rider is the best judge.
My father, Sabas Garcia, was a successful trainer at Palermo and San Isidro in Buenos Aires. I spent a lot of time with him at the track growing up. A lot of things are different about racing there. Races would have 20-horse fields and it was very competitive. They prefer longer distances. I remember my father winning a race that was 4,000 meters, about 2 ¼ miles. In Argentina, we like to train horses to go the classic distances, which we don’t have much of any more in this country.
People think a mile-and-an-eighth is a long race, and it’s really not. Here, there are a lot of people who can only train a horse to go five or six furlongs. They don’t know how to stretch a horse out. That just makes it easier for me to win the longer races.
Seriously, though, we breed so much for speed that not many horses can go longer than a mile. And when you have a horse that can go a mile-and-a-quarter, unless he wins a classic or a Grade I race, he’s not that good a sire prospect because breeders need speed, speed, speed.
I just think there is too much emphasis on speed in the breeding industry and we need to swing back toward breeding more horses for endurance. Ideally, you want to combine speed and stamina.
But the other side of the coin is, people want to bet on large fields, and your longer stakes races often don’t draw many entries. How many horses run in the Belmont Stakes, which is a mile-and-a-half? And you look at the quality of the fields, there are not many truly good ones. Even in Argentina, they are not running as many longer races as they used to.
Horatio Luro, the ‘Grand Senor’ who trained Kentucky Derby winners Decidedly and Northern Dancer, was an inspiration to me as a fellow Argentine trainer. He was my neighbor at Belmont Park for a few years, and he would talk to me in Spanish while he was riding the pony. He was a very nice gentleman. He always called me ‘El Pibe’ – ‘The Kid.’
One of his quotes that has always stuck with me is ‘Don’t squeeze the lemon dry.’ These horses are only going to be as good to you as you are to them. You have to know when it’s time to back off and give them a chance to recuperate. Mr. Luro also told me more than once, ‘Keep the horse in the company that is suitable for him – and keep yourself in good company, as well.’
I have 10 horses here now; they are all owned by Mr. Gerczak. I don’t want a large stable because I like to pay attention to details. When you have too many, you can’t train all of them yourself, and I don’t like to leave too much to my employees. Right now, I have two grooms, two hot walkers and one exercise rider, Jesse.
But I do enjoy passing along what I’ve learned. Two of the trainers I trained in Maryland, Dove Houghton and Robin Graham, have won a lot of races. I am very proud of what they have accomplished, and they deserve a chance to get better horses. Patrick Manuel, who since moved to Louisiana, is another good trainer I mentored.
I thought I could be a jockey when I was a young man in Argentina. Then, I broke my back in a riding accident and was disabled for six months. After I came to this country in the mid-1960s, I was able to gallop some horses for Oscar Barrera, Laz’s brother, but I hurt my back again and was not able to ride. That is why I cannot say enough about the jockeys. They might be the best athletes of any sport.
Last year, I was getting a little bored – I have been training on my own 40 years – so I took a year off from training and became Jesse’s agent. Anyone who knows him knows he’s a very good guy, which is the main reason we get along pretty good. So it was very rewarding to me to have him win on Action Andy in the Pelican Stakes.
Jesse is 52, but he is a worker. He gallops two or three horses for me every morning to stay fit and he works horses for other people. He takes care of himself and he’s very light, so he doesn’t have to reduce. He’s a strong rider, he has a good mind and he can win on the front or from behind, depending on what you want him to do.
I’ve never been a guy who liked to make a big deal about one race, because the next race you can be down again. I feel as though I’ve been very lucky. Gustave Ring, who was a New York owner, invited me to train for him at Belmont Park after I went out on my own, and he taught me a lot about the business part of racing.
I don’t make any money for what I charge training unless I win, and for an owner to break even, they need to make about $30,000 a year with a horse. So you’re trying to protect your owners so they stay in the business longer.
I enjoy what I’m doing. I use my knowledge, I’m very patient with the horses and I’m good with 2-year-olds. For me, the pride in developing a young horse is very important. I have proven myself over and over again that I can develop a horse to be the best that it can be. Just look at my stakes record – 136 stakes victories, from Kentucky to all over the East Coast.
That keeps it fun – the chance to prove myself again with another horse I can develop.

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