Donn's Articles » Tony Martin

Tony Martin

Strange the way life works out. When Tony Martin landed in New York in 1985, the first person he met in the airport was John Breslin, a friend of his dad’s from home. They had actually arrived in New York at the same time; Martin off to ride horses for Janet Elliott, one of the top trainers of jumps horses in the States, Breslin off to make his way in the construction industry.

Some 20 years later they met again at the Galway Festival, Martin now a successful trainer, Breslin a successful ex-pat, he and his brother Michael having set up Atlantic Hoisting and Scaffolding, the company responsible for providing the hoisting and scaffolding for the re-building of Ground Zero in New York.

Together Martin and Breslin decided that it would be a good idea for Breslin to have horses with Martin. There were a few horses before Ted Veale, but none as good as Ted Veale.

“Colin Magnier had Ted Veale as a point-to-pointer,” recalls Martin. “Colin is a great pal of mine, very shrewd, great judge, probably the best amateur rider I have ever seen. I can honestly say that I never saw him get beaten on a horse he should have won on.”

Tony worked for Colin’s dad Clem for about 10 years during his formative years, then the pair of them worked at Michael Cunningham’s together. “He rode the good ones, I rode the rest.”

Magnier won the 1982 Champion Hurdle on For Auction, and he rode Greasepaint, famously, to get to within an agonising three parts of a length of Corbiere in the Aintree Grand National in 1983.

“Colin buys a few young horses, gets them going, then sells them on,” says Martin. “He had Ted Veale and another horse going to the sale at Cheltenham in November 2011. I liked the two of them, I went over to Colin’s and had a sit on the pair of them, but I particularly liked Ted. So I said to John that we would buy the pair of them, I thought we’d get both of them for about 50 grand. Sure the first fellow made 60!”

Fortunately, Ted Veale wasn’t as expensive and, £32,000 later, Martin had him home with him.


Multiple champion point-to-point rider, Tony Martin has also had some very good days as a trainer. Think Davids Lad, 2001 Irish Grand National; think Dun Doire, 2006 William Hill Chase; think Xenophon, 2003 Pierse Hurdle or 2003 Coral Cup. Think flat if you like: Leg Spinner, 2005 Ascot Stakes, 2007 Cesarewitch; think Arc Bleu, 2007 Northumberland Plate. Or think both: She’s Our Mare, 1999 Swinton Hurdle and Cambridgeshire. Yet never before has he had as strong a group of horses at the same time as the group that he has at his disposal now.

Walk through the yard with him, and see the heads poking out over the doors. Benefficient, Deloitte Hurdle winner, Irish Arkle winner, game winner of the Jewson Chase at Cheltenham this year. That was some day. Some meeting, with Ted Veale winning the County Hurdle the following day. Blackmail, Golantilla, Dedigout, Bog Warrior.

“I don’t care what anyone says,” says the trainer defiantly, “but Bog Warrior could have won a Gold Cup this year. There are good horses around, but this fellow is something else. It was just desperate that he got injured like he did in the World Hurdle.”

He points out the scar on the horse’s near-fore into which a pin had to be inserted in order to help the fracture.

“Hopefully he will come back all right. It’s just that you never know if they will come back to be as good as they were beforehand.”

There were tough times recently, mind you. With an owners’ list that was dominated by syndicates and builders, Martin suffered more than most as a result of the national economic downturn. Not only that, but the deflation of the economy coincided with a dip in form by his horses. It took him a while to figure it out, but pyrite had got into the horses’ drinking water after he had moved some land in order to raise an extension to his main gallop. The horses weren’t sick, they just weren’t well, and they were under-performing.

“I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about chucking it. Honestly, five or six years ago, if I’d had the place paid off here, I could have gone over to Nicky Henderson, just to ride good horses, to be involved with good horses, get your few hundred pounds a week. And I would have loved to have worked with Henry Cecil. Growing up, he was a hero of mine, Henry Cecil and Vincent O’Brien. You’d learn more than you could imagine if you spent just a little while with men like that.

“Thankfully, though, we got it sorted. A neighbour of mine, Peter Collins, was a huge help with the pyrite problem. I knew I was able to train horses years ago, I was able to do it right. Then I came up to a great place like this, do it properly, put in proper stables and proper gallops, and it wasn’t working. Luckily we found the problem, and that was down to Peter Collins. Only for him, I’m sure I was gone.”

Martin is quick to attribute his success to others. It’s effortless, it’s not contrived, and it’s genuine.

“I’m up here in the house drinking tea and talking shite to you,” he laughs. “And yet I know that things are working away over in the yard. I’m very lucky to have great people around me, great staff, lads who know horses inside out, real horsemen. Kevin O’Leary and Shane Nolan and Paul Gray. Tommy Carmody is with me now as well. Fiona does all the paperwork in the office, Nicky is a great girl to feed and mind the horses. We have a great team.

“And we have brilliant owners. John Breslin and Aidan Shiels and Niall Reilly, who own Benefficient. JP McManus and Michael and Eddie O’Leary, and Barry Connell. And others. They’re all top people. They just want the job done right, they allow you get on with it, and that makes my job so much easier.”

Ted Veale is a worthy favourite for the Galway Hurdle on Thursday. Winner of the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, he won nicely on the flat at Bellewstown three weeks ago, beating his stable companion Blackmail into second place, and that should have put him spot on for Galway.

“He was only third in a maiden hurdle at the meeting last year, but the ground was just too soft for him that day. He should be much better on better ground on Thursday, and he will take his chance as long as the weights don’t go up too much. Barry Geraghty came down to ride him on Friday morning, and he was very happy with him. He will ride him on Thursday, and that is a big positive around Galway.”

Redera should go well in the amateurs’ race tomorrow evening. Edeymi is in that race as well, and he’s in the Galway Hurdle and a beginners’ chase on Thursday. Edeymi is also in the August Sale at DBS the following Tuesday, although there is a chance that a good run this week may see him return to Summerhill.

Blackmail probably goes in the maiden hurdle on Wednesday, probably with Ruby Walsh up. He’s exciting. Dark Crusader will probably run tomorrow evening and Busted Tycoon will probably run on Tuesday, both with Fran Berry up. Victrix Gale will probably go in the three-mile hurdle on Wednesday. Thomas Edison, Regusci, Military Bowl, are also on track, and others.

It could be another good week.

© The Sunday Times, 28th July 2013