Donn's Articles » Tony Martin

Tony Martin

Thursday, 31st July 2014, Ballybrit, Galway, the Galway Hurdle field is hurtling towards the third last hurdle and Tony Martin is watching Thomas Edison.  He doesn’t start to think that he can win it though.  Not yet.  He doesn’t dare.

“You couldn’t be confident at the third last.”

Martin ran every step with his horse to that point though, jumped every hurdle.  And every time his horse moved up a place, or landed safely over an obstacle without losing ground or momentum, he thought, grand, great, and exhaled.  Then he held his breath again.

With expectation comes pressure.  Martin didn’t feel the pressure, but he felt the expectation all right.  The Galway punters had backed Thomas Edison, sent him off the 7/2 favourite, but that wasn’t it.  The expectation came from within.  The trainer knew that his horse was well, he felt that he was good enough to win a Galway Hurdle.  He just wanted normal luck in-running, nothing to go wrong.  There’s the expectation right there.  Hold your breath again.

The field is racing down the hill now to the second last flight.  Thomas Edison is behind a wall of horses, but his trainer is not concerned.  There is still a long way to go from there, still that stiff hill to climb, plenty of time for the gaps to open, plenty of time to make up his ground.  Every rider around him is pushing away, asking his horse to quicken, but AP McCoy is motionless on Thomas Edison’s back, JP McManus’ green and gold hoops as still as a flag in your sitting room.

Just before the second last, a gap opens and Thomas Edison moves through it.  AP sees a stride at the obstacle, the horse sees it too, jumps it easily and suddenly he is in second place, three parts of a length behind the leader Fergall.  It is at that point that his trainer allows himself a glimpse of what might be.

Around the home turn and AP still sits.  Puts his finger on the trigger, but doesn’t pull it.  The rider eyes up the final obstacle.  See a stride, thinks his trainer.  Jump it cleanly.  AP sees it, Thomas Edison sees it, and in unison they flow over it.  Then AP gets into that familiar drive position that we miss now.  One crack of the whip and the pair of them put daylight between themselves and their pursuers, and together they dance up the run-in to a famous victory.

Twelve months later, and Tony Martin is in reflective mode.

“I was delighted for the horse,” he says.  “He had had no luck up until then.  He was travelling well when he was brought down at the second last flight in the Boylesports Hurdle in 2013, the year that Ted Veale was third.  Then he lost about 20 lengths when he was hampered at the second flight at Down Royal and ran on to be beaten by three.  Then he was brought down when he was travelling well in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.  He was just an unlucky horse.  He deserved a big win.”

Martin always had faith in Thomas Edison.  He thought that he was good even before he beat Champagne Fever in a bumper at the 2011 Leopardstown Christmas Festival.  It was why he was delighted that JP McManus bought him shortly after he won that bumper.

“He was the first horse that JP had with me, so I was hoping that he would do well for him.  It was a bit frustrating when he was having all that bad luck, but JP and Frank (Berry) were great, they always said that it would turn around.”

Thomas Edison was the jewel in the crown that was the 2014 Galway Festival for Martin.  He ran 18 horses at the meeting, and six of them won.  Not only that, but four of those six wins were in four of the big handicaps. Quick Jack won the Connacht Hotel Qualified Riders’ Handicap on Monday, Greatness won the Tote Handicap Hurdle on Wednesday, Thomas Edison won the Galway Hurdle on Thursday, Artful Artist won the Guinness Handicap on Friday.  And on top of all that, five of Martin’s 12 beaten horses were placed.  It was some week.

“It was great to have those winners last year.  It could have been better, a couple of horses, like Cassells Rock and Shalamzar, were a little unlucky, but you can’t be complaining.  It’s such a competitive place.  You could have a horse run out of his skin and still finish just fourth or fifth.”

Last year wasn’t a one-off either.  In truth, the trainer had been building up to it.  In 2013 he had 16 runners, nine winners.  It was a remarkable strike rate.  He prepared Busted Tycoon to win on the flat on the Tuesday and on the Saturday, and he sent her out again on the Sunday to win a two-mile handicap hurdle.  Never before had one horse won three times at the Galway Festival.

“Galway is a great week,” says Martin.  “From a racing perspective, you start looking forward to it as soon as Punchestown is over.  But it’s about more than just the racing.  It is one of the highlights on the whole Irish calendar.  You’d meet everyone there, GAA people and builders and workers and people who are just there for the social side of it.  You wouldn’t have to have anything to do with the racing to go to Galway.”

This year, Martin’s Galway team is shaping up to be at least as strong as it was last year, possibly even stronger.  Thomas Edison is on track for the Hurdle again, bidding to become the first horse since the Noel Meade-trained Pinch Hitter in 1982 and 1983 to win back-to-back runnings of the Hurdle.  He is 11lb higher in the ratings than he was last year, but it is difficult to argue that he wouldn’t have won last year’s renewal with significantly more weight on his back.

He will be joined by his stable companion Quick Jack, currently favourite for the race, and by Ted Veale and Pyromaniac, if he gets into the race.  Savello will probably go in the Plate instead.

“They’re all in good form,” says the trainer.  “The whole team is well.  Galway suits us, the horses that we have, the Plate and the Hurdle, and we have other horses for the other races.  We have some great owners, John Breslin and Maurice Regan of Newtown Anner Stud, and obviously JP McManus, who love to have runners and winners at Galway.”

The Martin team will probably number 18 or 19 in total, although he will have several entries in some of the bigger handicaps.  He could have eight or nine runners in total in the three big handicaps.  But that’s just the way it is.  That’s Galway.

“I’m very lucky that I have great owners, and I have great staff around me and some good horses.  We’re in a good place.”

No pressure then, just expectation.  Breathe out now.

© The Sunday Times, 26th July 2015