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Magical Moments

First appeared in the September 2016 issue of
Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder

You're Hired - George Materna

George MaternaFifty years ago not only did England win the World Cup, but a passion for racing was fostered in George Materna, a passion that endures to this day.

“My father was interested in horseracing and enjoyed a flutter and allowed me sixpence each-way when I was 13 in 1966,” he says.

“We watched the race on our 9” black and white Bush TV and the horse, Hadrian, came second at 20-1. I was on board! On the same TV we watched England win the World Cup.”

For most of those intervening years Materna had dreamed of winning a race at Glorious Goodwood. He has been attending for 40 years, been a member for 30 years, and taken a box for 15 years, and this summer finally cracked it when the Amanda Perrett trained You’re Hired landed the opening £50,000 handicap on Ladies’ Day.

“When I was in my twenties I used to look up at the boxes and hope one day it might be me,” he says.

Explaining his background in ownership, Materna, a Hull-born child of British naturalised Czechoslovak parents who escaped in 1948 when the Communists confiscated any wealth they possessed, recalls:

“A few years after setting up my recruitment business in 1984 I was having a pint in Southampton with an industry friend Phil Anders and we discussed owning racehorses if and when we could ever afford it. We both were excited and driven by the thought.

“By 1994 we were in a position to have a small go with one horse. I telephoned the BBA for some advice, and Teddy Beckett answered – his life before Prince Khalid Abdullah!

“He was brilliant and held our hand through everything in those early days, including providing a choice of trainers after listening to our wishlist.”

After three colourful but winless years with Mick Channon, Materna turned to James Toller, and the then-Whitsbury-based trainer provided him with his first winner, Pagan King, at Brighton in 1998.

“We enjoyed success through various Pagan horses with James, and Lisa Jones was a very lucky rider for us,” he says.

Materna and Anders formed The Gap (taken from their first names) Partnership from 1994 to 2009, during which time there were 24 winners from 242 runners, the pick being Pagan Dance, Pagan Sky, Pagan Prince and the aforementioned Pagan King.

Some of Materna’s magical moments arrived during that time.

“These included that first winner – thank you James Toller and Royston Ffrench – Pagan Dance when he was second in the Duke of Edinburgh at Royal Ascot in 2004, Pagan Prince winning the Mail on Sunday Final in 2003 – Lisa Jones was brilliant – Pagan Sky winning at 20-1 at Pontefract and then 14-1 at Sandown, and Pagan Prince winning the Aunt Bessie’s Handicap at my hometown track Beverley in 2002,” says Materna.

Under his own name since 2005, Materna has matched The Gap Partnership’s 24 winners, from 286 runners. His best horses

have included Eye Of The Storm, Glaring, You’re Hired, Deeds Not Words, Czech it Out, Truism, Open The Red and Tigerwolf – Materna, a Hull fan, owns the last-named with his oldest friend Roger Badley, a Wolves fan.

Materna currently has six with Perrett, whom he holds in very high regard along with her husband Mark and has been with since 2000, two with Channon, whose regime “appears chaotic but is passionate and very effective”, while a recent jumping recruit is with Simon Hodgson.

So what does he enjoy about being an owner?

“Lots of things,” he answers. “The anticipation, the adrenalin of a raceday, the build-up and excitement before a race. Also an appreciation of knowing that so many things have to fall in place just to get the horse to the races. Then of course there’s the celebration of a winner or placed horse; it’s fantastic fun as a group. When You’re Hired won at Goodwood all 14 people in our box jumped up at the same time, as did two or three boxes around us.

“That first Glorious Goodwood winner was certainly a magical moment. It was a fantastic day, with so many congratulations and good wishes all washed down by some exceptional Chateau Margaux.

“There have been other great days at Goodwood too. Truism showed such heart when running at Goodwood on the Tuesday and Saturday of the festival for two years on the spin, placing each time. And it was very exciting to have a runner in last year’s Goodwood Cup, Eye Of The Storm, a one-eyed horse bought from Coolmore at the 2014 Horses in Training sale.

“Away from Goodwood, Deeds Not Words winning a valuable Newmarket race on softish ground he didn’t like – well done Charlie Bishop, great ride! – was a brilliant day, and he chalked up a hat-trick in September 2013.”

The 63-year-old, who with wife Anne-Marie has five daughters, was a prop for Southampton rugby club for a decade and is looking forward to following the British & Irish Lions to New Zealand next year.

“The downside is we fly out on the first day of Royal Ascot,” says Materna. The upside is it doesn’t clash with Glorious Goodwood!

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