Those who worry about the major stables hoovering up all the best prizes will be cheered to see Bear Ghylls is favourite for one of the TV races at Cheltenham on Saturday. The unbeaten novice hurdler, with clear star potential, is trained up on Exmoor by Nicky Martin, a permit-holder who bought him years back for just €22,000 and now believes she has a contender for the Festival itself.
“We’re right on top of the moor,” Martin said from her Great Bradley base on Monday. “Very beautiful but the weather can be a bit dodgy.”
Since Sunday, the yard has been all but snowbound and Martin’s gallops are briefly unusable. To keep Bear Ghylls in peak condition, she packed him off to Philip Hobbs’s stable for a couple of canters on Monday. “We had to tow the lorry to the end of the drive. It’s been an entertaining morning.”
You might not know Martin but any fan of jumps racing will know some of her horses, like The Two Amigos, recently runner-up in the Welsh Grand National, or the doughty hurdler Sykes. Recent seasons have made us familiar with the maroon and beige colours of the Bradley Partnership, under which title she and her partner, John Simpson, own her runners.
Until five years ago, their racehorses were stabled with Nicky Henderson, Philip Hobbs and a handful of others while Martin stuck to their point-to-pointers. “And then I thought, this is a bit silly, really, paying all this money to everybody else.” Only Charlie Longsdon has kept a couple of Bradley-owned horses (“Probably because I like him,” Martin says) but he will not be allowed to run Castle Robin against Bear Ghylls on Saturday.
Now in her fifties, Martin had no long-term plan to train. “Always been horsey, worked with racehorses in Italy for years, my mother rode in point to points, my grandfather raced. It’s in the blood.” Her son, Ben Malasomma, is a professional polo player. “When he left, I thought, well, I haven’t got the polo ponies any more, what shall I do? So I got a couple of point to pointers and it’s gone on from there. It’s sort of got out of hand.”
But she is better placed than most trainers in not having owners on the phone at all hours. It means she can buy three-year-olds and bring them along at the pace she thinks is right for them. “There’s no stress. If you’re paying a trainer full whack every month, you want to run. Everybody wants to run. Which I don’t have to.”
She has 20 horses and five full-time staff, who will be as tense as the trainer this Saturday. “We’re a small team and we all help each other. Because I don’t do it for a living, it has to be fun. So everybody’s very involved in what we do. They’re so excited.”
Martin and jockey Matt Griffiths have been working together for many years. He rides out twice a week and there is no question of the legup on Bear Ghylls going to anyone else, but that doesn’t stop some from chancing their arm. “As soon as he was entered this morning, the agents were all on the phone. ‘Any ideas for jockeys?’ When they know full well that Matt rides the horse,” she says, laughing heartily.
Big and raw, Bear Ghylls is reckoned to be a novice chaser for next season, but he may not have finished winning over hurdles yet. “This is obviously going to be his hardest task ever. He’s got quite a big, long stride, I wouldn’t have thought Cheltenham would bother him at all. I’d have thought he’d love it, but you can’t know. Plus there’s a lot of good horses in the race. It’s what we need to know. We need to find out how good we are.”
Tuesday’s best bets
There’s no chance this can be as a big a day on Talking Horses as Monday turned out to be, thanks to an amazing bet struck by one of our regulars. Moidadem reported that Spurs v Wycombe last night was to be the last leg of an ambitious 16-game acca. Spurs made him sweat but came good in the nick of time and as many people turned up in the comments to celebrate with him as you’d normally get here on Derby day. Have a look for yourself.
Lion’s Vigil (3.25) is the one that stands out for me on Southwell’s afternoon card. Steadily progressive in his handful of handicaps, he coped well with his first try on this surface a fortnight ago. That was his first start since July and it’s easy to see the chestnut making the necessary progress to turn around the form with the winner, Straight Ash. He’s 11-4.
Tips by Chris Cook
1.25 King Of Stars 1.55 Jazz Legend 2.25 Daafr 2.55 Maykir 3.25 Lion's Vigil (nb) 3.55 Tackleslikeaferret
3.10 Cherish 3.40 Oh So Nice 4.10 My Girl Maggie 4.40 Aureum 5.10 Gavi Di Gavi 5.40 Noble Queen 6.10 Herons Nest 6.40 Majestic Tejaan (nap) 7.10 The Good Ting
Kelso Abandoned because track is frozen
At Wolves tonight, the market loves Nortonthorpe Boy to make all again but this seems a tougher test and the unexposed Majestic Tejaan (6.40) is worth a look at 100-30. She went close behind a hot favourite at Newcastle recently, fully justifying her opening handicap mark, and can do better again behind a stronger pace.