Like father, like son. Jack Martin got it into his head as a teenager that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his ‘oul fella’, Paul, and become a jockey. Not even sceptical school teachers could put him off despite the tricky terrain involved in the pursuit.
His glory trail wasn’t overly promising two fences out from the finish at Exeter last Wednesday either, when on board the 10/1 chance Gingerbread for trainer Philip Hobbs, but a determined manoeuver set Martin on his way for a thrilling finish, a short head victory confirmed after a clip review.
It’s the 24-year-old’s sixth winner in the space of 12 months and first since before Christmas, but one that, he hopes, will earn him greater opportunities over the period to come, and perhaps even a chance to ride at the Cheltenham festival in March.
“It’s definitely not an enjoyable winner in the circumstances because you pull up and you’re wondering if you got there,” Martin tells The Argus, reflecting on his exploits in south-west England seven days ago.
“It’s happened to me before where I thought I had the race and I didn’t get there. That can be so gutting. I’d much prefer if the horse won by half a length where I could pull up and give a little fist to the air. The adrenaline, the rush and the crowd, but it was more a case of passing the finishing line and asking who won. It’s not a nice feeling. Once you figure out the result, it’s still never as good.
“Gingerbread, he was well handicapped because he fell four weeks ago when he looked like he was going to win. Not getting such a hard run and falling, he was running fresh on Wednesday and lower in weight.
“It was probably more of a competitive race and the only instructions that I had off Mr Hobbs was to try to settle and relax him because he’s quite a strong, keen horse. I was sitting two out and I knew I had a chance. I waited for my gap but didn’t get one, so I had to switch out to my left and once we got rolling after the last, I knew I had a really good chance.
“I knew I got there but it’s one of those scenarios where it could be the other way around. Luckily enough, it was the right way around for me.”
The Armagh Road-native had a similar winner last October on board one of Terry Warner’s steeds, which was his second winner of the season. Chances didn’t arrive as fluently following that particular triumph but he is valued around the Hobbs yard having made the move over in 2019 following a stint with Noel Meade.
Having gained his conditional jockey’s licence, he remains eager to prove his worth and gain professional status, like that enjoyed by his cousin in northern England, former champion jockey Brian Hughes.
“Everyone says that you need rides to get winners, but you need winners to get rides,” he adds.
“It works both ways. There are highs and lows but there are days where you realise that you’re in the right spot. You’re after riding a winner for a big name, everyone knows Philip Hobbs and his jockeys, and nobody rides for him other than if you’re one of his jockeys, unless there are JP (McManus) horses.
“He’s one winner off hitting his 3,000th milestone and one of the biggest and best in the business. Like he often says to me, ‘there won’t be many chances, but when the chances come, they’ll always be good rides and close to winning’. Most of the time, they’re very close.
“My last conditionals’ ride was in January and that was for a JP horse. That blows you up and it’s class to walk in and speak with the like of Aidan Coleman. You make a connection and he tells you things about how the horse should be ridden.
“Had I gone to a small trainer, I wouldn’t get these chances because they wouldn’t have the big owners like Philip. Do you go to a smaller yard for lots of rides or a bigger yard, with Philip’s profile, and hopefully become a jockey?”
That was the decision he had to make following two years in Meade’s stables, where he learned much of his craft. Paul Martin was, of course, a jockey for the Meath-native once upon a time and that gave Jack an in that he may not have otherwise got.
Though his amateur status was prohibitive and he was encouraged to seek pastures new in the year before Covid-19 intercepted the industry and resulted in Hobbs’ staff being laid off for five months.
“I wanted to be a jockey when I was younger, from about 15 or 16, but one of the jockeys in Noel’s said: ‘Jack, you’re wasting your time here. You’re a young jockey who’s growing up. You want to be a jockey but you’re not going to get your chances here’.
“It was coming to the end of the season and I just thought that he was so right. I’d done two seasons at Noel Meade’s and learned so much, but I want to be a jockey as well. There was an opportunity that opened at Philip Hobbs’, not a huge opportunity but somewhere to start afresh.
“I went over but fairly quickly, I was like, ‘this place is not for me’. There were English accents everywhere and the food was different. It wasn’t my lifestyle, I felt, ‘I’m Irish, born and bred’. There were a lot of Irish people over here and telling me to stick it out and offering support, but I didn’t think it was for me at the time.
“My first Christmas at home was the worst time because I didn’t want to come back over. I had my first ride coming up that January and I wasn’t even looking forward to that. Once I started pointing, it disguised the homesickness a little bit, but I went home that summer and really had no interest in going back. But I did.
“It takes a bit of time to adjust – you can’t just get up and move somewhere new and get on with it like it’s not a problem.”
Three-and-a-half years into his spell in Minehead and the De La Salle College alumni, whose brothers, Paul and Leo, have played Gaelic football in the colours of Clan na Gael, is much happier and far more settled, doing the job that he loves, despite the persistent lure of home and his family, including Katie and Amy, his mother and sister.
“When it comes to a fall, injuries and unseats... the worst part is when you don’t get to ride the horse again and others can then win on it. It’s not that their a better jockey but the horse that wins a race is always the best horse in it. There can be low bits like that where the trainer almost doesn’t believe in you to ride the horse any more because of a fall or whatever, and that can knock you down.
“You have to have a love for the sport and obviously, you can make a good living out of it if you’re very successful, but if you didn’t have the love or passion for it, I don’t think anyone would be doing it.
“Like, at school, I was a good student, a bit of a messer, but I got on with my teachers and enjoyed the craic. I told them I was going to become a jockey and none of them really agreed with it. One of them said to me: ‘Jack, I wanted to be an astronaut’. I was like, ‘you can’t compare what I want to be to becoming an astronaut’.
“It was said to my mam as well and, so, when they said that to me, I didn’t even look at college courses, it was about proving them all wrong. ‘This is going to be a number one’. I couldn’t stand to think of another career.”
He still can’t. It’s what he wants to do. It’s all he now knows.