Martina Rojas: “Nothing like loving your job”
“When I am working horses out in the morning and the sun comes up, it is the most beautiful feeling. There is nothing like it. There is nothing like loving your job.”
Those are the words of 18-year-old apprentice jockey Martina Rojas, who has burst upon the Mid-Atlantic racing scene this year. The wisdom of that statement may seem beyond the years of a teenager, but Rojas brings a ton of horse experience to the table.
In addition to being exposed to the horse business as a youngster by her parents Eduardo and Murray, both trainers, Martina has multiple years of riding experience in the rodeo world. That experience and her love of horses helped her to make a sudden career choice earlier this year.
“Back in January I decided I wanted to be a jockey, so I didn’t tell my parents but went to the stewards and asked about the process of obtaining my jockey’s license,” she remembered.
Fast forward a month and she obtained the license. On March 24 she rode and won in her very first race, on a maiden, TC Greeley, for her father Eduardo Rojas at Penn National.
“I was in shock. I never thought I would win my first race,” the rider said. “When I crossed the line I asked another rider, ‘What do I do next?’”
That whirlwind beginning was shortly followed by a very successful meet at Presque Isle Downs, where she finished fourth in the jockey standings with 47 wins from 229 mounts.
“Presque Isle was a good track to start out with,” Rojas explained. “My parents were there, as well as my brother-in-law, Pablo Morales, who was the leading rider and helped me out alot.”
Rojas saw branching out to other Midlantic tracks, such as Parx Racing, the Maryland tracks, and elsewhere, as a logical next step.
“I like the area. There are better tracks, better horses and more money,” she noted. “It’s like climbing up the ladder and hopefully brings a boost” to her career.
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She netted another top five meeting during Timonium’s seven-day summer stand, winning with five of 17 starters. She garnered another six wins at the Pimlico fall meet, good for fourth in the standings. Her agent John Weilbacher feels she is set up well to close the year strongly at Laurel with some additional rides at Parx and Penn National.
“My goal for this year was to strive for 100 wins,” Rojas said. As of November 27 she had amassed 86 wins, and a productive month would make that goal achievable.
It has not all been a bed of roses for the youngster who suffered significant injuries last year.
“I was holding a yearling for a blacksmith when the horse got startled and kicked me into a post,” Rojas recalled. She suffered a lacerated liver, broken ribs and a fractured skull. She at first thought this might be the end of her time working with horses, but she was back barrel racing before the year was out which is a testament to her grit and courage.
More recently Rojas was injured during morning works and missed her scheduled rides at Laurel November 26 and Parx November 27. Weilbacher said she had passed concussion protocols and would return to the track by mid-week.
Rojas said her injuries after being kicked reminded her that “one can be humbled in life.” But she also said she doesn’t “ever think about” the dangers of being a jockey, preferring instead “to ignore all negativity.”
Though she competes in a heavily male-dominated field, Rojas said she believes that “the guys respect [her] abilities,” and on the track her goal is to be accepted as a fellow jockey, equal to her counterparts.
At the Maryland tracks, since the beginning of the Timonium meet, Rojas has won 23 races, a rate that’s 3.83 wins per 100 starts above what her odds predict. That’s second only to Forest Boyce in added wins among riders with at least 100 starts during the period.
Rojas is preternaturally goal-driven, given her youth.
“I would like to take it year-by-year in this business and strive for a long career with 2,000 plus wins,” she said.
For now she seems to be in a very good place.
“When I ride in the evening for pleasure and I see the sunset, I am at peace,” she added.