Donn's Articles » Martin Lynch

Martin Lynch

Grand National day, Aintree, 1981, Martin Lynch circles at the start on Jim Dreaper’s horse Barney Maclyvie. A couple of weeks earlier, on his first day as a professional rider, Lynch had ridden the horse at Leopardstown. He hadn’t even taken the saddle off when Dreaper asked him if he had a mount in the Grand National. What, ever?

Some thrill. The most famous horse race on the planet, the hum of the packed grandstand behind him, the television cameras, the magnet for sporting attention the world over, and he is a part of it. He made conversation with the lad who was leading him around.

“Have you ever had a runner in the Grand National?” Lynch asked him.

“I have had three,” came the response, “and they have all fallen at the first fence.”

Lynch’s heart beat faster as they crossed the Melling Road towards the first fence. Thirty of the biggest fences that any horse is ever asked to jump in front of him, adrenaline up, these are the occasions for which you live, this is why you do what you do.

He was meeting the first fence on a good stride, just a little long. He asked his horse to come up, and he did. But the drop on the landing side of the first fence in the Grand National can catch horses out, it can be a little longer than horses expect, they can land a little steeper than they think. Barney Maclyvie was too steep, he over-jumped, crumpled on landing. Lynch was thrown clear, curled up in a ball as he hit the ground and braced himself for the kick on the leg that followed, then rose, the mental anguish much more excruciating than the pain in his leg.

He hobbled over to the side of the course and leaned on the rail. He couldn’t believe it, his National dream over before it had really begun. The expletives built up in his head before exploding from his lips in a torrent of sub-conscious despair. When he thought he was finished cursing his luck, he got a tap on the shoulder, and looked up to see a priest standing over him. The priest made the sign of the cross above his head, divine intervention:

“I don’t blame you my son.”


Martin Lynch strokes Oscar Time’s nose and laughs at the memory. Instant absolution. The Grand National was never a race that was too kind to him as a rider. He was due to ride Auntie Dot in the race for John Webber in 1991, but he got a fall at Towcester the previous week, and the mare finished third under Mark Dwyer behind Seagram and Garrison Savannah. In 1992, he was due to ride Auntie Dot again, but a mix up resulted in Dwyer getting the ride once more. In 1992, however, with Adrian Maguire injured, the ball bounced a little more kindly for Lynch. He picked up the spare ride on Gold Cup winner Cool Ground, and completed the course, finishing 10th behind Party Politics.

But the difference between riding them and training them is huge, he tells you. When you ride them, you get off at the end of the race, tell the trainer that the horse might be better over further or on softer ground or dropped in class, then go home and wait for the next one. When you train, you live with them and you breathe with them. You can’t go home and wait for the next one. Rather, you take them home with you and scratch your head.

Lynch enjoyed some great days as a rider. He rode Royal Dipper to win the Morgiana Hurdle for John Fowler, he rode Seskin Bridge for the President of Ireland and trainer Peter McCreery to finish second to Rhyme N Reason in the Irish Grand National, and he rode Nick The Brief for John Upson to win the Peter Marsh Chase and the Vincent O’Brien Gold Cup.

Upon retiring from race riding, he returning from the UK with his wife, former trainer and current acupuncturist Suzanne Finn, to set up as a trainer. He leased Bill Durkan’s yard in Glencairn initially before buying Midleton Park Stables just outside Castletown Geoghegan – a Meathman living in Westmeath – part of the Boyd-Rochfort estate steeped in racing history. It is here where the 1946 Derby winner Airborne was bred, and this is the place made famous in recent times when Barney Curley, frustrated in his efforts to sell it, put the entire estate up as first prize in a raffle.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Martin Lynch, racehorse trainer.

“It was in 2000, Colonel Yeager had just gone wrong,” he recalls. “That was very difficult. He was a superstar in my book who never made it to be a superstar because of injury. Things weren’t going well, I had no time for the kids, it was all a struggle. I remember a horse breaking down with me in a gallop one morning. I turned round to Suzanne and I told her that it was all too much, that I wasn’t renewing my licence.”

He spent a couple of years just buying and selling horses, doing some work for Irish Thoroughbred Marketing as an ownership advisor. Gradually he realised that he missed the buzz, his eldest son Mark was starting to get interested in riding, so he renewed his licence. He did so with eyes wide open, because he wanted to train, fully aware of the downside and the potential pitfalls. Shortly afterwards, he bought Oscar Time.

“He isn’t overly big,” says Lynch, “but we have had the Grand National in mind for him for a while. He is a great horse to jump. We had a great day when he won the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown in December 2009, and we almost had another when he finished second in the Irish National last April. From that day, we decided to train him for next Saturday’s race.”

Previous owner Eamonn Kane had resisted many offers to sell, but the offer that came in during the summer was good enough to tempt him, so he told Lynch that, if he could sell him to an owner who would allow him remain in the yard, that’s what he should do. Lynch called Robert Waley-Cohen.

He knew the owner from his days as a rider in the UK. Actually, it was a horse of the Gold Cup-winning owner’s who put the final nail in Lynch’s riding career. He was schooling Won’t Be Gone Long at Towcester in 1993 with a view to potentially riding him in that year’s Grand National when the horse fell and Lynch broke his collar bone. That was his final injury as a rider. Ironically, it was on the same horse that Richard Dunwoody got the starting tape wrapped around his neck at the start of the voided 1993 Grand National.

Hopefully there will be no such mis-haps next Saturday. Lynch is counting the days. The horse could hardly be in better form, his build-up could hardly have gone better. Primarily, he wants his horse and rider Sam Waley-Cohen to come back safely. After that, he wants to win. With normal luck in-running, he has a huge chance. And some more divine intervention would be most welcome.

© The Sunday Times, 3rd April 2011