Fray Martinez and his wife, Yelitza.

Fray Martinez and his wife, Yelitza.

by Frank Vespe

Tracy Tate O’Dowd can’t help but get a little emotional when she thinks about what’s going on.

O’Dowd, the Assistant Director of Corporate Business Development for the Maryland Jockey Club, has been spearheading the company’s efforts to hold a fundraiser for young Fray Martinez, the 21-year-old jockey battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

“The outpouring of support and love for one of our own,” O’Dowd said, “it really brings me to tears, the kindness of people.”


The first fruits of that kindness are already piling up in O’Dowd’s ground floor office at Laurel Park.

There’s the saddle autographed by numerous Santa Anita Park jockeys — Hall of Famers like Victor Espinoza, Mike Smith, and Kent Desormeaux, dual-Classic winner Mario Gutierrez, and others.

There’s a boot signed by the stalwarts of the Gulfstream Park jockey colony, among them Javier Castellano, John Velazquez, Julien Leparoux, and Corey Lanerie.

There are silks in the colors of King Leatherbury’s The Jim Stable, autographed by the octogenarian Hall of Famer himself, a blue saddle signed by the riders in the Maryland Jockey Club colony, and autographed pictures galore.

All in all, it’s quite a haul.

“The number of items that we have in the silent auction that are completely unique and one-of-a-kind items,” said O’Dowd, “those are items that are just so cool.”

For all that, it’s this coming Saturday when the rubber really meets the road.  That’s when the items will be offered, from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., in a silent auction in the Laurel Park clubhouse.

At the same time, representatives from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society will be on hand to educate people about blood cancers, such as what Martinez is suffering, as will folks from There Goes My Hero, an organization that seeks to restore hope to leukemia patients and their families by increasing registered bone marrow donors, providing nutritious meals to patients undergoing treatment, and supporting blood cancer research.

There Goes My Hero will swab patrons’ cheeks on the spot and sign them up to be bone marrow donors (there are restrictions on who can participate).  The Maryland Jockey Club will provide each swabbed donor a $2 betting voucher as thanks.

“Adding people to the bone marrow registry with the cheek swab from There Goes My Hero — that’s huge,” O’Dowd said.  “That will save lives.”

Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford is also expected to be on hand, as are representatives from the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs.  Combating blood cancers is an issue that figures to find a receptive audience in the Governor’s office; Maryland Governor Larry Hogan himself recently overcame non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Meanwhile, back in Puerto Rico, Fray Martinez, whose wife Yelitza is pregnant with their first child, is doing well, said O’Dowd, who said she has exchanged messages with him and spoken with his mother in law.  The first round of chemotherapy seems to have knocked out the cancer; the rider, whose weight had fallen to less than 90 pounds, is working to regain his strength.

“He’s just very, very grateful and humbled that so many people care about him,” O’Dowd said.

An event like Saturday’s “Fundraiser for Fray” can make a big, big difference — both for Martinez and for others facing the difficult challenge of fighting blood cancers.

For more info, check out Laurel Park’s website or attend the races Saturday, February 13.  If you can’t make it but would like to make a donation, you can do so through the nonprofit Maryland Horsemen’s Assistance Foundation.