By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
Last week, I was lucky enough to have a really interesting chat with Newmarket-based racehorse trainer, Martin Smith. Martin holds both a flat and National Hunt licence and he has fifteen horses currently in training, but room for thirty.
Martin has always been involved in horse racing, “I was born into it. My dad [Allan Smith] was a trainer and encouraged me into it. I really wanted to be a pilot when I was a kid but from when I was about eleven I started going down the yard and doing bits on weekends and then, when I got to about thirteen, I’d ride out a lot before I went to school and, if I was late riding out, I’d have to go to school in my riding clothes which wasn’t much fun.”
On his journey to becoming a trainer, Martin did “everything” but he was a jockey in Belgium, where he grew up, first, “I got an apprentice licence just before my fifteenth birthday so I rode my first winner when I was still fourteen. I got a little bit heavier and I went jumping and was a conditional jockey.”
That first win was on a horse called Jeroboam and he sounds like a fantastic horse, “I remember a week before, me and my dad were both riding in the same race and Dad won that race on Jeroboam and exactly a week later I rode my first winner on the same horse. That was amazing – you never forget your first winner.” So, a family favourite? “He was! My brother won on him as well. For some reason, everyone won on him once and I don’t think anyone ever won on him twice. He was my first ride in England as well. That was a good day. I must’ve been about seventeen by then. It was at Lingfield on New Years’ Eve and, I’ll never forget, I came into the straight and one had gotten away so I was just pushing out for second and next thing, with about a furlong to go, Frankie Dettori comes flying past me and caught the front horse on the line. I was just blown away.”
Until the age of 21, Martin rode as a jockey but it got to the point where he wasn’t getting the rides, “Even though, when I did get a ride they’d run well, they didn’t necessarily get me any more rides. I think I went about six months without a ride and I thought I’d struggled hard enough for long enough so I gave up.” Martin had a break for a year and did normal jobs before returning and working as a pupil assistant, assistant trainer, head lad and did a lot of traveling horses.
Martin took out his English Dual-Purpose training licence in 2013 and his first winner was Boris The Bold in November 2013, “We’d bought him fairly cheap in the February Sales. He was doing okay until when he injured his tendon. Eventually, we got him back and, when he came back, he went in and won for us. That was the first winner. He was a little horse and I used to be assistant trainer to John Best before I started training and he was at John’s so I knew the horse and I knew his background and he didn’t have the greatest start in life so it was nice to be able to give him a chance. We looked after him well and he’s rewarded us.” This momentous win was Boris The Bold’s last race after he injured the leg again and was retired but he seems to be enjoying his retirement, “Now, with the woman who’s got him, she’s had him about six years and he keeps popping up on Facebook and Instagram and is living the life of riley.”
You can get involved with Martin’s horses for an affordable price with the Martin Smith Racing Club and I was interested to find out more about how it came about, “Basically, the problem when you start training is that the idea is you train for other people but, inadvertently, you own bits of horses yourself. I put all the horses I won together in the racing club, obviously with the permission of the other owners, so the people who have a membership in the racing club, they’re involved in those horses. I spoke to so many people over the years that have said ‘Oh, I’d love to have a share in a horse but I can’t afford it.’ And, really, all they want is the social aspect so I thought I can do that at a fairly affordable price so we worked it out and the idea was to make it so cheap that anyone who wanted to do it could afford it.”
There are lots of benefits with the membership, “They [members] get the chance to come to the stables on a Saturday morning – like ‘club mornings’. Any of the members can come to the yard and see the horses on the gallops and that. Then, we have about four or five club days through the year, where everyone comes down and we have a bit of a get together, food and drink and we have a WhatsApp group chat for all the members and they’re always chatting on that every day – that has been really popular. We try and get everyone owners’ badges but sometimes there’s more people than badges but so far it hasn’t been too much of a problem to be honest.”
Likeable filly Break The Rules was seen winning at Southwell in the orange and black racing club colours on the 14th July in a mares’ novice hurdle and she put up a professional performance at great odds of 12/1. She’s a half-sister to one of Martin’s stable stars Arch My Boy, who won two hurdle races incredibly well in 2019 and was then sold on to race in America for a tidy profit. In the racing club, there is also Aleatoric, who was beaten less than two lengths in early July at 150/1; Morani Kali, who is yet to race; Friends Don’t Ask, who has had just five races, and Badger The Pony, who is a little character and accompanies the horses to the races. Affluence, by the late Thewayyouare out of an Oasis Dream mare, is one of Martin’s most popular horses and he has won five races for the yard and ran at Royal Ascot last time.
Updates on these horses can be seen on Martin’s social media pages, which are hugely popular. It offers a brilliant insight to the life of racehorses, “There’s a lot of people who think it’s a cruel sport and all that so it’s nice to be able to show how well these horses are looked after.” On a personal level, the social media page is helpful to Martin for promoting his business, “We do everything we can to try and attract new people because we can’t rely on training fifty horses for the Sheikhs. […] We can advertise how we think we can do a good job and how people would be well off to send their horses to us.”
Last week, the racing world was left reeling by Ed Vaughan calling time on his career after he said he couldn’t make it pay. This was after his biggest career success with Dame Malliot in the group two Princess Of Wales’ Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket. On this, Martin said, “Ed Vaughan is like me. He’s an independent guy. He’s worked for all the big Sheikhs but they’re not going to support him as a trainer. Same as me – I lived and worked in Dubai and I got a great experience but I would never expect any of those guys to come knocking on my door.”
The horses in his yard aren’t exceptionally well-bred but, with the horses he has, I think Martin does a great job. He described it as a “miracle” that he has winners against the big guns and “there’s no feeling like it” when a horse from John Gosden’s yard or Godolphin are in behind, “For me, to get ten winners in a year, I have to get a 20% strike rate and, with the horses that I buy, it is an achievement, I don’t care what anyone says. People compare it to football but in football there are different leagues and a club in the bottom would never play Manchester United. When we turn up at the races, we have to run against John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute. The races are open to everyone. There’s no way of us sort of working our way up the ranks – we have to take on who ever turns up, with much less fire power.” Martin equalled his best ever tally of flat winners in a year in 2019 when he had seven winners from sixty-five runners. He has had four winners on the flat and one over jumps so far in 2020.
I was keen to talk about the prize money situation in the UK with Martin and he said that the biggest problem facing horse racing at the minute is definitely prize money and the lack of it in lower grade races. He said, “The problem is the big guns don’t need the money and they don’t want us to win the money so the answer is they just don’t offer great prize money. To be fair, racing will always survive as long as the Sheikhs are involved in it. They don’t need us. So, they’re not going to make any changes to keep smaller owners and trainers in there racing, which is a bit sad really.”
Other countries don’t seem to have as much of a problem with prize money, “American prize money is great. France’s prize money is fairly good and costs are cheaper. It just seems to be, in England, it is sort of back-to-front in terms of finances. I very first got my trainer’s licence in America in 2004 and my first runner was in a maiden running for $15,000 to the winner – and it wasn’t a great maiden either. Over there, the quality is not great and people can afford to keep two horses and as long as one of them wins a race or two in a year, it pays for all their costs. I’ve got a horse that’s won five races and he has barely covered one year’s training. He’s won over £30,000 but when you think it costs £25,000 a year to keep a horse in training and he’s five years old now. So, if you were to add everything up, he’s lost money even though he’s won five races.” I, personally, can’t get my head around this. A five times race winner should really be breaking even in my opinion, even at a lower grade.
It appears to me that a contributing factor to the lack of prize money is the way it is all structured with the betting shops and companies, which Martin mentioned, “It’s funny because the bookmakers seem to make loads of money and without racing I don’t think football betting would go that far. I think they get most of their money from racing but they don’t seem to put that much back into racing. Whereas in America, the race tracks control all the betting, which is the same as France with the Tote, so they literally put their own money into the purses. Whereas, over here, its outside companies and bookmakers that come and take all the profits and go and set up off-shore so they don’t even pay tax, let alone put anything into the prizemoney.”
At this point, I asked Martin “Do you think this is something the BHA can actually do something about or do you think that it has gone to far to be rectified?” His response was, “It’s tough – it has gone wild. It would be hard to suddenly say ‘right, that’s it, nobody is allowed to take bets on our racing anymore and we won’t show it on the racing channels’ so I don’t know how they can suddenly change it. I think they could afford to change it to charge the bookmakers more. And the bookmakers may kick up the stink about it but they can afford it whatever they say. It’s probably one of the most profitable and fastest growing industries there is, is betting. It’s just crazy that their industry does so well and they make the majority of their money off our industry and our industry is on its knees.”
To finish on a chirpy note, I asked Martin his goals as a trainer, “My dream would be to win the Melbourne Cup or a Breeder’s Cup race,” he said, “But on a more realistic level, what I want to do is grow the yard, get more horses and, ultimately, with every horse I get, the aim is to help them achieve their potential and help them win what they can for their owners.”
I’d like to thank Martin for his time and I hope you all found this interesting and enjoyed finding out about him. I found our conversation fascinating and Martin is an extremely knowledgeable, talented trainer who loves his horses. If you have a racehorse in need of a trainer, send them his way or, if not, just follow his social media pages!
Racing Club Website – https://www.martinsmithracing.com/copy-of-racing-partnerships
Twitter – @MartinPBSmith
Instagram – @martinpbsmith
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/user/Sollemsmith