Honoring a True Hero

Racing industry award recognizes trainer’s immeasurable bravery

The running of the annual $1,000,000 TVG Pacific Classic is always a thrilling day at Del Mar. But when the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club welcomes the throngs of spectators through its gates on August 18, they’ll be in for much more than this highly anticipated race.

On that same day, the 15th annual Laffit Pincay, Jr. Award will be bestowed upon one very honored guest. Selected by the Hall of Fame jockey himself along with officials at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, the recipient is chosen for serving the sport with “integrity, extraordinary dedication, determination, and distinction.” Last year’s honoree was Mike Smith, a fellow Hall of Famer who went on to win the Triple Crown this year. In addition to jockeys, other past recipients include distinguished breeders, owners, trainers, and racing executives.

This time, the award will not go to a jockey. The 2018 recipient is Martine Bellocq, a trainer who valiantly attempted to save her horses as wildfires raged through the San Luis Rey Training Center in Bonsall, incurring burns over 60 percent of her body and ultimately losing her lower left leg.

Martine Bellocq

Martine Bellocq in 2017

Nearly eight months after that fateful day, Bellocq’s battle to heal continues. “It’s very hard and painful. In the night, you cannot lay down and sleep. It’s burning,” she says. She’s already had eight grafts on her leg and is learning to use a prosthesis. Additional operations on her eyes and neck will alleviate the tension that was pulling her skin downward. “It’s kind of hard. You cannot smile. Your skin is so tight,” she says. However, her perspective is inspiring. “I look in the mirror — I’m not too young anymore, and you know for me, I see me. It’s not important if I’m beautiful. Now I know who I am. The wound and everything doesn’t bother me anymore.” Her doting seven-year-old grandson agrees. “He sees me with no leg, he sees my face, so burned, and he said, ‘Mamie, you know what, you look beautiful to me,” she says adoringly.

Martine Bellocq

Painting by ten-year-old Josiah Love

The lifelong horse lover has no regret for what she did to try to save her horse. “I would do the same,” she says. “What I know now, to be burned to this point, maybe I’d be more careful not to burn myself so much, but I think I’d try as much as I can. I’d be there until I could not be.”

While the award is quite an honor, it’s easy to wonder if she has any conflicted feelings about all that her selflessness has cost her. But the answer is a resounding “no.” “There’s no conflict,” she says matter-of-factly. “I realize I am not like some other horse people who’ve received the award, but being recognized for bravery and selflessness — it’s very nice.”

Following the fires, a GoFund Me page created to assist with Bellocq’s medical expenses raised more than $30,000, and included best-selling Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand among its donors. Bellocq recalls a radio interview she had prior to the Belmont Stakes, where the host said he had someone on the line who wanted to say something to her. She was shocked when it turned out to be Hillenbrand. “She said, ‘You know, Martine, you’re my hero.’ And I said, ‘What?!’” laughs Bellocq. “I did nothing. For her to tell me on national radio I’m her hero — she’s a wonderful person.”

So, did Hillenbrand tap Bellocq as the focus of her next bestseller? “Not yet. But maybe if I need her. You never know,” she laughs. “I had a long life with a lot of things you can talk about. I dived with sharks! I was a little bit crazy when I was young.”

Despite her ongoing and challenging recovery process, Bellocq will be present to personally accept the award from Pincay at Del Mar, where she’ll be joined by her family and others who worked to save the horses that terrifying day. She’s hoping a special young man will be there, too. The boy, ten-year-old Josiah Love, who’s never met Bellocq, was so moved by her story that he decided to create and sell paintings of horses and give the proceeds to Bellocq to help with her medical costs. “I was very touched by this. I will invite him to come to the ceremony, because I think it’s incredible, what he did,” says Bellocq. dmtc.com   Deanna Murphy

Martine Bellocq: Photo courtesy of Del Mar Thoroughbred club     Painting: Photo by Loree Love