Beer Goggles is one of those inexpensive, talented horses that would not have looked out of place in the ROA’s Special Achievement Award category at last month’s glitzy bash in London.
The little terrier had a stellar 2017, finishing no worse than third in the seven races he completed, winning four of them, and topping the year by defeating Unowhatimeanharry, Thistlecrack and three other bigger names from bigger yards in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury at 40-1.
He is owned by ROA members Nicky Martin and her partner John Simpson, and Martin is perhaps a little unusual in having quite so many of the horses she owns with other trainers.
A permit-holder based in Exmoor, Martin says of her background: “My granddad and mother were pointto-point riders – I’m a farmer’s daughter.
“My son is a professional polo player, and when he went off abroad I got a bit bored and bought a couple of point-to-pointers. That was about ten years ago.
“I had a couple with Jeremy Scott, then started myself, first in point-to-points and then under rules.
“After a while I decided I didn’t want to train every horse I owned. I like having someone else to blame!”
Training is not for the fainthearted at the best of times, and that’s especially the case for Martin at this time of year.
“We live on Exmoor, 1,300 feet up on the top of a hill,” she says. “We’ve been here for 15 years. It’s healthy for the horses, though the weather is a challenge!”
She continues: “We own about 30 and I train about 20 myself. The other ten are out and about with various trainers.
“We like to go to Ireland to buy unbroken three-year-olds. Some go on to run under rules, others in point-to-points – there are about five or six of them for this year. The rest run under rules.
“We never spend that much – we’ve never paid as much as €100,000 – and have just been lucky. I do think luck plays an important part in racing, you either are or aren’t lucky.
“We run our horses under the name of the Bradley Partnership. That’s myself and my partner John, it’s just the two of us. We prefer to spread the horses we don’t have here out among various trainers. Some horses suit certain training regimes, and if there’s a bug in a yard then they don’t all get it.
“We speak regularly with the trainers of the horses we have elsewhere, at least once a week, and of course I will often see them racing anyway. I try not to get too involved.”
While Beer Goggles’ high-profile shock success at Newbury was a big win for his owners, it was too for trainer Richard Woollacott.
Explaining the link, Martin says: “Myself and Richard worked together as grooms years ago, and point-topointed together.
“I love horses by Oscar – and have had plenty – and one Sunday, Richard and [bloodstock agent] Tom Malone took us out to lunch and got me drunk enough that I said I’d buy Beer Goggles!”
Such lazy, hazy Sunday lunches can often be regretted, but this was not one of them, and Beer Goggles has provided plenty of thrills, and only the odd spill, in ten runs for Martin and Simpson since his purchase.
Martin says: “I led him in after he won at Newbury, so I was rather out of the way of the television glare! We were hoping he would be placed but I thought Unowhatimeanharry would win, and of course Thistlecrack was in there, but he has just improved and improved.
“We were obviously hoping that we didn’t end up making fools of ourselves by running him in such a race. We did think he’d be placed but we didn’t expect to win.
“The Cleeve is the idea now, to see how he copes with Cheltenham. He’s run on flat courses until now, and if the Cleeve doesn’t work out then we think we’d go to Aintree.
“Everything is going well really this season. Sykes and Sonoftheking won the week before Beer Goggles, Ozzie The Oscar, who we have with Philip Hobbs, won at Warwick before running at Cheltenham, Treacle Tart, who we have with Charlie Longsdon, has won, as did Pistol Shoot in the summer.”
Richard Johnson’s ride on Beer Goggles at Newbury received much praise, and Martin says: “Dickie rides a lot for me and I think he’s pure class, in a different league. He gave Beer Goggles a peach of a ride. He’s got a brain.”
She adds: “Matt Griffiths rides out for us, and rides for us on the track, and he’s a good lad, too.”
Asked for her highlights as an owner-trainer so far, Martin replies: “Beer Goggles winning the Long Distance Hurdle has to be one of the magical moments. Another was when Ozzie The Oscar was third in the 2016 County Hurdle at 66-1. That was very exciting, as was my first point-to-point winner, Yufo. You see other people doing it and think, ‘Let’s do it’.
“I think, like with Beer Goggles, when something’s unexpected that makes it all the more magical. If you go racing with a favourite the only way is downhill but if you’re 16-1, 20-1, or a Beer Goggles price, you’re not expecting it, and it just makes it even better.”
Jumping is very much the name of the game for Martin, who admits: “I’m only a permit-holder anyway but not really interested in the Flat.
“I worked at the Capannelle in Rome when I was much younger, but I just find jumping more exciting.
“I know it’s horses for courses but in my experience the people in jump racing seem more interested in the horses and the sport.”
She continues: “I think the thing I like best about the game is the challenge; it’s not like other sports as horses can’t talk; you have to work it out yourself.
“Buying unbroken three-year-olds and making them racehorses is what I like doing. It is easy to buy winners but how we do it is a challenge and I enjoy it.
“Very little about racing annoys me. It’s just a hobby after all; we don’t make money!”
Helping fund their equine exploits is her partner’s mobile home parks business, Charles Simpson, while there are also ventures on their doorstep.
“John is a big shooting man and we have a pheasant shoot here, run on a semi-commercial basis, and we’ve a working farm,” says Martin.
With the interview conducted a few weeks before Christmas, it was apt to ask Martin a couple of festive flavoured questions, and she replies: “I don’t know if you’d call it a new year’s resolution but a winner at the Festival would be the number one wish for 2018.
“It’s something I’ve never achieved but would really like to. And in terms of Christmas presents, it’s got be diamonds or nice horses!”
Neither come cheap but both can be a girl’s best friend.