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Interview with Jose Martinez, Thoroughbred Jockey

Interviewed by Tricia Psarreas on January 31, 2008

Jose Martinez is a thoroughbred jockey who is widely respected in the industry. As a witness to the day that Shane Sellers was handcuffed and banned from Churchill Downs, Jose offers an inside look to what really happened that day and after.

Tricia:             How did you first meet Shane and what has your relationship been like?

Jose:                Shane and I met a loooong time ago. We ran into each other on the track. I don’t remember which track, but I think it was in New York during my early career. We made each other work hard out there in the afternoons. We were both competitive and we learned to respect each other as athletes, as riders. We just connected and became great friends. I’ve known him for a long, long time and I have never seen the guy start any trouble or anything like that. Never, ever, ever. I’ve never seen that side of him. He’s always been a gentleman.


Tricia:             Can you tell me what happened on the day that Shane was handcuffed and banned from Churchill Downs?

Jose:                One thing I might tell you that I know because I was standing there that day is that Shane wasn’t even in the jocks’ room. This had been going on for a couple of days and the guild was finally starting to get involved. A jockey Gary Berger got hurt and we needed change. I was involved in it, Albarado, and everyone else was involved in it just as much as Shane was. We wanted Shane to be in there because he was one of our fellow riders and he was really good at speaking. For some reason, they took him away in handcuffs. They let me stay and I didn’t have any mounts either. The guy didn’t even know what was going on. He had been at home and the next thing he knew he was called to the jocks’ room and he was hauled away in handcuffs. I don’t understand why that happened to him; none of us do. That was the worst moment I’ve ever experienced on the racetrack. I was in tears. He was home minding his own business and then he was led away in handcuffs for no reason.


Tricia:             Did anybody try to help Shane when he was not reinstated?

Jose:                I did. I went and spoke to the jocks Guild, to Steve Sexton, to other jockeys … Nothing ever got done. Basically, the way I see it, he just got treated like he was a nobody. He had one of the best jobs in the country taken away from him. I wanted an answer for my own sake to find out why he couldn’t get reinstated, why he was handcuffed … If anything, we should have all been handcuffed and arrested because we were all fighting for the same thing.

Shane has been a good friend of mine for a lot of years and he’s a stand up guy. A lot of people say he’s hot headed but he’s not. If you don’t do anything to him he won’t do nothing to you. He’s never looking for fights and he doesn’t try to sugarcoat things either. The guy was doing what he thought was right – what we all thought was right – and nobody did anything to bring the guy back. Every time it was brought up, it was always, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” And nothing ever got done.

This is something that needs to be told and that people need to hear. He was riding for Steve Assmusen and he had a wonderful career. Then some people went and stripped it all away from him and look where he is now. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who would like to know what happened, why it happened, and why it was just ignored.


Tricia:             What are your thoughts on what happened to Shane after the Churchill Downs incident?

Jose:                Shane supposedly had a lot of friends and he helped a lot of people. When we were on strike that one time, the Guild offered me money and to take care of me not to ride. Shane didn’t have to do this because it wasn’t his responsibility, but he called me to see how I was doing and he said, “Jose meet me at the mall.” I met him and then he wrote me a check for $1000 out of his pocket. The next day I called him back and told him that I was going to give him back his check because I had to start riding again. Nobody would help me so I had to get back to the only thing I had to do. He said, “Jose, if you have to go back to riding, then that’s what you have to do. But I can’t take that money back from you.” And that’s the kind of guy he is. He didn’t have to do any of that, but he did. It was the Guild’s responsibility to take of the riders, not Shane Sellers’. But he did it anyway.


Tricia:             So do you think that Shane generally played a positive role in jockeys’ lives?

Jose:                Whenever something got done, Shane was the only one to speak up. When it came to weights, or jockeys health, or anything else, Shane wanted to change things for riders. He didn’t want young riders to have to go through what he went through for all those years. To me he never looked like a bad guy, but other people sometimes think that. These were things that other riders always wanted to do something about and Shane said “Let’s do something about it.” For other riders to complain when it was partly their idea, they’re wrong. It’s a shame because the guy was home with his family. He didn’t even know why he was coming to the track that day.


Tricia:             So Shane was really a helpful guy, then?

Jose:                Shane’s helped riders like Robby Albarado, Chris Rosier, a lot of riders. I really can’t think of all of them off the top of my head, but he’s helped a lot. One year he dedicated the jockey challenge to Robby because he got hurt. Another time he raised a lot of money for Randy after he got sick. He helped a lot of people. I know one guy he helped a lot was Robby Albarado. Shane always went to bat for that kid. The same thing for Brian Hernandez. He just helped a lot of people in a good way. He always pointed us to the right track and to the right way of doing things when it comes to weights, taking care of our bodies, and everything else. He always tried to help all of us.


Tricia:             In your opinion, why are so many people unwilling to help Shane now that he is writing a book?

Jose:                I don’t know why so many people don’t want to be in the book and don’t want to help. Maybe they’re afraid of the truth. For me, I’m not going to lie about the truth. And the truth is that everything I’m telling you is just the way things went. It’s plain black and white; people may not want to hear it, but it’s the truth.


Tricia:             One last question: What do you think of Shane telling his story in a book?

Jose:                I think it’s a good idea and I think the truth should be known. For a lot of years, people haven’t really seen riders dying, jockeys getting sick and heaving, and weights. Something could be done; it doesn’t have to be like this. Maybe something could change with the weights or jockeys getting hurt or jockeys not having good enough insurance. People should really know what’s going on.


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