The trip to Marlborough from London on Wednesday to meet Claire and Martin Dwyer is, without question, the high point of my current London visit. The train journey from London Paddington to Bedwyn took an hour and fifteen minutes. While waiting for the Bedwyn train at Paddington, the platform we were supposed to go was not put on the closed circuit television screens until 12 minutes before departure. We got into the compartment with five minutes to spare.
Martin was at the platform to receive us. That was a special gesture. Martin dislocated his collarbone in a fall in Prague (Czech Republic) less than two weeks ago. He is not riding at the moment and he does not know when he will be back in action.
We drove to (trainer) William Muir’s stable. Claire, Muir’s daughter, is married to Martin Dwyer. They have been married for 16 years and have two children. Joseph is 14 and Daisy 11. Martin did not seem disappointed when saying that Joseph is not interested in a racing career. Claire surprised me by saying that Joseph has a passion for American football. The family lives in Marlboro, about five miles from Bedwyn.
Martin made tea for my wife and me. We saw pictures of some of Martin’s winning rides. Claire works for her father. We sat down and Martin answered every one of my questions with due diligence.
“I am 40. I have ridden about 1,500 winners in my career. You mention a country and I’ve been there. The Arc De Triomphe is one race I have not been in. I began riding when I was 14 and it is a late start in this era. At 16, I went to work for Ian Balding. That was a great learning experience. The one useful lesson I was able to learn is how to use the whip left-handed. I am right-handed and this early training to be ambidextrous helped me a great deal as I advanced in my career,” Martin said.
I asked him about the role of the agent and the sharing percentages. “The mount fee is about 115 pounds. I get seven percent when I win a race. The agent gets 10 percent of my earnings. My agent is Simon Dodds. He has been with me for five years. He picks the horse on a given day and lets me know. Whether I accept his recommendation or not, is entirely my decision. The agent, more often than not, has a better sense of a horse’s chances. Therefore, his choices are not to be taken lightly,” Martin replied.
What about driving to different tracks and the monotony of driving long distances? “I am in Marlborough. Salisbury, Newbury, Chepstow and Bath are close. Ascot, Windsor and Kempton are within an hour. We, jockeys, have car pools. On a given day, I’ll drive with two other guys to a course. The next day, another jockey, will drive two others. We are in communication all the time and car-pooling saves us time, reduces fatigue from driving and keeps is in good enough shape for race-riding.”
“I have had three mishaps in recent years. In December 2013, I fell at Southwell. I had a concussion and was out of riding for quite some time. More recently, I had a fall at Wolverhampton that required a period on the bench. And this Prague fall but I am fortunate. Every one of these falls could have resulted in serious injuries. What helps me philosophically is that I do not dwell on the past. I look forward to what the next day holds. This attitude has kept me going,” Martin explained.
Talking about a move that he made that may have cost him precious time in his career, Martin referred to the period he was riding for Sheikh Hamdan. “Richard Hills was the first jockey and I accepted the second jockey’s position. It did not work out. I left after three seasons. I had a job with Andrew Balding that I gave up to join forces with Sheikh Hamdan. It was a mistake.”
Martin’s list of winners is long and interesting. In India, he has won most of the major Classics. His partnership with In The Spotlight is one of the brightest chapters in Indian racing history. I saw Martin ride three winners on Oaks day at Epsom in 2003. Casual Look was his winning ride in the Oaks. In a four-way photo, Martin steered Sir Percy through the narrowest of gaps to win the 2006 Epsom Derby. I remember watching that race from the press box balcony at Epsom. Sir Percy also won the 2005 Dewhurst as a two year-old. Dominica in the King’s Stand is another that I readily call. Martin has won in Hong Kong, Dubai, Canada and other countries in Europe. Persian Punch gave Martin some significant victories in England.
“I have been everywhere and won everywhere but there is a special place in my heart for India. I was 22 and that was a time when English and Irish jockeys went to India to sharpen their skills. Ray Cochrane, who at one time rode in India, spoke highly of India. Ray recommended that I ride for trainer Padmanabhan. That is how my affair with India began,” Martin recalled with a touch of emotion.
“There was no better training ground than India. With every visit I made, my thinking evolved and my riding techniques improved. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Mrs Sharmila and Mr Padmanahan. Sharmila helped me with all my paper work and took care of me. There is one conversation with Sharmila that I recall. I was driving to Newbury and the car phone rang. I told Sharmila I was going for a ride in Newbury’s first race. Sharmila said, ”your horse is a non-runner.”
“I can talk endlessly about Paddy. He is one of the smartest trainers. He can hold his own anywhere. There are two stories I need to narrate. I won with Running Flame in Bombay and Paddy had read the race like a movie script. He had walked the track. He told me who the pacesetter would be and how I should ride my race. I did exactly what Paddy wanted me to do and I won. Another is Zurbaran in Hyderabad’s 2003 Invitation Cup. Paddy had cautioned that there was some dead wood ( horses that did not belong) in the race. He wanted me to be clear of the pack and stay as close to the lead as possible. Zurbaran won easily.”
Expressing gratitude to Mr Padmanabhan, Martin said,” trainer Paddy taught me to ride ‘patient’ races. He explained me how to assess the opposition and how to understand why things happen or do not happen in a race. Paddy also helped me realize how important the feedback is from the jockey to the trainer. He has been a critical element in my career.”
We talked about In The Spotlight. “ She is the best I rode in India. She was a super star. She won the Invitation in Bangalore when she was not fully fit. That’s a tribute to Paddy. There are only two horses that I rode that had fan clubs. Persian Punch was one. In The Spotlight was the other. There was loud cheering from the fans whenever I left the paddock on my way to the starting gate with these two. I vividly remember the loud cheers in Bangalore as I took In The Spotlight to the gate in the Invitation. It is an unforgettable thing.”