Equine Artist Martinez Reflects on Rich Career

Happy almost Belmont weekend! While the following story of Nick Martinez isn't directly OTTB-related, this jockey-turned equine artist does donate a portion of the proceeds from his work to retired racehorse efforts. I hope you enjoy this story of Martinez' colorful journey in the Thoroughbred industry.


From cattle ranch horseman to successful jockey, and now a prominent equine artist, Nick Martinez' life has taken many turns.

The native of Trinnidad, Colo., who was introduced to horses at a young age by his grandfather, made that animal his lifelong passion through the various vocations he has chosen. It's a decision he'll never regret.

After spending some time as a real life cowboy as a young boy in rural Wyoming, Martinez attended Casper Junior College upon the urging of his father and majored in art. Feeling pulled in the direction of becoming a jockey rather than an artist upon graduation however, Martinez decided to follow his dream.

He started his jockey career in 1976 at Centennial Race track in Littleton, Colorado, where he won a considerable amount of races and was eventually discovered by an agent that recruited him to ride in California.

In all his years of riding, Martinez said one of the most memorable moments of his riding career was when his grandfather, a lifelong horseman, celebrated with him in the winner's circle after witnessing his second career race and first-ever victory as a jockey at Centennial.

"When I came back, he said, 'We did it!,' " remembered Martinez, now 61. "He reached out to shake my hand and he was teary-eyed. There was normally never any emotion in this man. To see him like that, I knew he was happy.

"I've had other great moments winning at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita Park, and Del Mar, but because (me winning) that day meant so much to (my grandfather), it meant a lot to me." 

In 1983, Martinez' career came to a halt when he shattered several bones in his leg in a riding accident. While the prognosis did not look good for him to ride again, he was determined to get back in the saddle.

The jockey endured a year and a half of physical therapy and in his spare time took drawing classes at a local art college in Phoenix, Ariz. After his leg was fully rehabilitated, Martinez returned to riding for another six years, racing mostly on the Midwest circuit.

When he officially retired from race riding in 1991, Martinez continued work as an exercise rider at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Saratoga Race Course, Newmarket, England, Gulfstream Park, and major farms in and around Lexington, while pursuing his art career on the side.

Martinez at the half mile pole at Saratoga in 2002; photo by Debbie Kral

Martinez used his connections as a member of The Jockey's Guild to host his first art show in Saratoga, where sold several equine portraits. Due to his success at the upstate New York track, Martinez decided to make regular visits there to sell art, and eventually decided to make the area his permanent home.

Martinez quit riding completely after another injury several years ago and has been working as a full-time artist ever since. In addition to portraits of various horsemen, jockeys, and horses, he also paints landscapes and other animals and was commissioned to travel to Africa and paint wildlife last winter.

Martinez was put on the map in the equine art world in a big way when he was commissioned by owner Allen Paulson to paint two-time Horse of the Year Cigar during the early part of his career in the 1990s.

"Mr. Paulson was one of the top owners in the world at the time and I was honored to paint that portrait for him," said Martinez, whose expansive resume also now includes paintings of other such prominent horses as Zenyatta, Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Bernardini, and Goldikova.

Martinez works on a portrait of Secretariat; photo by Larna Rachelle

Martinez believes he offers a different perspective than most artists since he has experienced the racing scene firsthand.

"Riding and art have taken me to a lot of places around the world," said Martinez. "Now I'm so content with the painting, but the race riding was a big part of my life. If you look at my art, you can see emotions in the animal; especially in the running horses. I think I offer something a little more...I almost relive moments when I paint them."

In addition to being talented, Martinez is also charitable, as he donates a portion of his profits several non-profit organizations, including the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, United Way, and various off track Thoroughbred organizations.

"I like being able to give, especially back to the industry...I might as well make money for people that really need it.," said Martinez, who after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 donated 100% of the proceeds from several hundred limited edition prints of a Ruffian painting to benefit hurricane relief efforts.

You can view and purchase Martinez' work at The Blood-Horse store Exclusively Equine by clicking here.

Visit Martinez' official website at www.nickmartinezart.com.

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