Monday Musings: Noel Martin’s Quest Lives On

Two events, either end of the past seven days, were a cause for sadness and poignancy, writes Tony Stafford. Last Monday Noel Martin, the Jamaican-born Birmingham resident, died age 60. Yesterday at Chantilly, the three-year-old filly Onassis, daughter of Martin’s brilliant but luckless race-mare Jacqueline Quest, won a Listed race at Chantilly.

Martin’s life story was well-known. A lifelong racing fan, he had been among a large group of British construction workers based in Germany in the mid-1990’s. While driving his car one day in June 1996, Martin was targeted by a Neo-Nazi, a 17-year-old youth who threw a 6-kilogram concrete block at the car’s windscreen simply because of his colour. Martin lost control, hit a tree and was left as a quadriplegic with no control of either his legs or arms.

Amazingly, he pursued his love of racing, becoming an owner and winning two Royal Ascot races in 2006 – the well-tried double of the Ascot Stakes and Queen Alexandra Stakes – with Baddam, trained by Mick Channon.

This came at a time when he was considering travelling back to Germany to have an assisted suicide, so greatly did he suffer. He related in one interview, “Sometimes I didn’t leave the house more than two or three times in a year”, talking of non-stop pain in his feet. A television documentary was made about his planned suicide, but Martin took exception to elements of it. Soon after, he changed his mind about ending his life and founded a charity aimed at challenging racial hatred.

An exchange scheme between young people in Germany and Birmingham became the focal point of his later years. Jacqueline Quest was certainly a major part and nobody who was on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket for the 2010 1,000 Guineas will ever forget the scenes. Martin, in his wheelchair, having welcomed back his Sir Henry Cecil-trained 66-1 winner, had to endure the shock of her being disqualified in favour of the Criquette Head-trained favourite, Special Duty.

Watching the race again now, it is possible to see why the result was amended as Tom Queally, on the winner, changed his whip into his left hand late on. It did provide the impetus to wrest the initiative back from the French filly, but also contributed to her general right-handed drift throughout the closing stages. That said, actual interference seemed minimal and it must have been a tight decision in the stewards’ room.

Martin’s stoic acceptance of the result was admirable and, while Jacqueline Quest – named for his wife Jacqueline who died in 2000 from cancer, very early into his many years of infirmity – never won another race, she was destined to have quite a say in the world of thoroughbred breeding.

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For mares to succeed, they need to find the right owners, and in Major Christopher Hanbury of Triermore Stud, Co Meath, that was certainly the case. Even though Jacqueline Quest’s subsequent racing years were unproductive, finishing at nearby trainer Ian Williams, who had also handled Baddam later in his career, she still realised 600,000gns when sold as a four-year-old at Tattersall’s December sales. Not a bad return for a filly, originally bought for €60,000 in Ireland as a yearling.

Hanbury mated her with Galileo, a union which has been repeated several times since. The first two products, Hibiscus, sold for 625,000 gns, and World War (1.2 million gns), were minor winners for Aidan O’Brien and Ger Lyons respectively. They, and all those that followed, were prepared for the sale at Peter Stanley’s New England stud. Next came Hidden Dragon, who was twice withdrawn from sales, first as a yearling and then as a two-year-old catalogued from Ballydoyle. Now an unraced five-year-old, he is listed as being in the ownership of J P McManus with Joseph O’Brien.

Triermore’s fourth Galileo mating resulted in the October 2017 sale of Line Of Duty for 400,000 gns to Godolphin. Charlie Appleby trained him and memorably won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf race with him at Churchill Downs. That proved his last win. He finished eighth in Anthony Van Dyck’s Derby and sadly died at the end of last year.

For his 2017 mating, Hanbury switched to Galileo’s great rival, Dubawi. Obviously, Line Of Duty hadn’t started racing yet and I’m sure the Dubawi mating was planned with a Godolphin yearling purchase in mind. Instead, at the sales, Jacqueline Quest had her least lucrative result, the filly that would be named Onassis going to a bid of “only” 200,000 gns. It was effectively a buy-back which resulted in a partnership between Triermore Stud and Peter Stanley.

They sent the cleverly-named Onassis to Newmarket trainer Charlie Fellowes and the pair must have been delighted when she won at the sixth time of asking a Newcastle fillies’ nursery off a mark of 75 last October with Hayley Turner in the saddle.

Onassis was subsequently off the track until last month. Returning in the Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot, again partnered by Turner, she won at 33-1, exactly repeating for connections the previous year’s result in the same race when Thanks Be, trained by Fellowes, also won at 33-1 giving Hayley her first Royal Ascot victory.

After this year’s Ascot, Turner suffered an injury which kept her off the track for three weeks, so she was unable to ride Onassis in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom. Onassis finished a creditable fourth under Ryan Moore in that Group 3 event.

Hayley, though, was fit again for Chantilly and she brought Onassis through from some way back to win nicely. There was a brief reminder of that Guineas disqualification a decade earlier when the Chantilly stewards looked into their winding route through, which seemed slightly to inconvenience one of the runners, but the result was soon confirmed. Maybe in less enlightened days, the Jacqueline Quest family might have suffered another “injustice”.

Onassis has raced nine times for three wins, and Turner is three for three on her. As the first woman to ride 100 winners in a season and only the second after Gay Kelleway to win a Royal Ascot race, she is a true icon of the sport. Twenty years on from her first win, she retains all her charm and riding talent. How fitting that in Hollie Doyle she has a successor who may one day (how about this year?) challenge for the jockeys’ championship. She, too, has a century and a Royal Ascot win to her name. A Group 1 is the next ambition for Doyle to match Turner’s achievements.

There remains one more chapter in the Jacqueline Quest story waiting to unfold as Charlie Appleby has charge for Godolphin of the latest product of that well-tried marriage. Line Of Duty’s full-brother, now a two-year-old, sold last year for 1.1 million gns, and will hopefully appear on the track in the not too far distant future.

Meanwhile, it seems that Appleby has decided against confronting Enable again with Ghaiyyath, who beat her with such panache in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes earlier this month in Saturday’s Qipco King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. The entries will be eagerly anticipated this morning, but you get the feeling from that first run back that the great mare might be as good as ever at the age of six.

Presumably Ghaiyyath will wait for York, whose race committee will be hoping that, like Goodwood next Saturday, they might be permitted to have at least one day with public attending. A crowd of 5,000 will be allowed at Goodwood on Saturday week. I’ve always wanted to excuse myself one year from the Sussex Downs in favour of a first look at Galway, as they clash every year. Seems like I’ll be stuck on the sofa for an 18th straight week instead of doing either!

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Like Noel Martin, the recently knighted Sir Graham Wylie enjoyed his racing, so much so that at one time he had 80 horses in training with Howard Johnson in Co Durham. The partnership was already creaking a little when Johnson lost his licence over a serious horse welfare issue, since when Wylie had his reduced team of 20 split between Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls. And now the founder of the Sage software company has decided – at Noel Martin’s all-too-young age of 60 – to take a step back from ownership.

Over in Ireland, one trainer who is inexorably moving into the top echelon of his trade is Ger Lyons. Already trainer of Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Siskin this year, he followed with success in Saturday’s Irish Oaks with the 10-1 shot Even So. Lyons runs Siskin in the Sussex Stakes next week when Frankie Dettori is on the bench waiting for the call if Colin Keane decides not to suffer the two-week quarantine requirement by coming over.

Even So had a trio of Coolmore-owned fillies as well as Jessica Harrington’s favourite Cayenne Pepper to beat on Saturday, but she readily outstayed the Harrington filly. She runs for a partnership of the wives of John Magnier and Paul Shanahan, hence the pink colours.

On Sunday at The Curragh Lyons followed up in the Group 2 Kilboy Estates Stakes for fillies with Lemista. This was the fourth win in succession for the daughter of Raven’s Pass, but the first in the colours of her new owner, Peter M Brant. Yes, Ger Lyons is truly in the big time now.

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