Harry Martin seems to have been around Sydney harness racing tracks forever, and was well ensconced when I trained and drove my very first horse, a two year old filly called Red Mittens. Harry had a filly called Miss Viscount at the same time, and I clearly recall going around with him in early trials, and in a race or two.
Almost forty years have flashed by, and Harry’s still a fixture on Sydney tracks, and still the same friendly bloke he was back then.
Harry Martin was an accomplished rider long before he ever sat in a trotting sulky. The veteran horseman grew up in the Menangle district, and befriended local trotting trainer Bill Galway Snr at an early age.
Apart from working his team of harness horses, Galway Snr also ran a small business buying and selling ponies. He was constantly on the lookout for safe children’s ponies, and would keep them on his property until fully satisfied they were tractable enough to sell on to young people.
“I was mad about riding horses in those days, and I spent every spare moment at the Galway place working his ponies”, reflected Harry Martin. He showed little interest in the standardbreds, and Galway had to all but prise him out of the saddle, into the sulky.
Like so many before him, Harry became captivated by the magic rhythm of the pacer, and before long he was seeking drives on the training track. He quickly gained his trainer’s licence, and couldn’t wait to get to the races. He’s never forgotten the thrill of winning his first race on a mare called Infalax at the old Newcastle Showground circuit.
Royal Tempest was another early winner for the little stable, and then came a filly called Miss Viscount - an average race mare, but destined for much bigger things in the breeding barn.
Her first foal, was the horse Harry rates second to Double Identity, on his list of favourites. Resilience raced forty times for fourteen wins, including the Bathurst Gold Tiara and a 1990 Sires Stakes Final. Miss Viscount also left Pre Eminence (25 wins), Precedence (6 wins), Our Eminence (6 wins), and Sunsational ( 5 wins).
Double Identity had his first twenty five starts for trainer Colin Grimson, who won nine races with him, despite the fact that the gelding’s “knee knocking” tendencies were already a major problem. When Colin Grimson decided to move to the country, Harry Martin took over as Double Identity’s trainer, with undreamed of horizons ahead.
He won nine of his next fourteen starts, despite the gaiting problem every harness trainer dreads. Double Identity was a chronic “knee knocker”.
He was “turned out” in the off fore foot, and had the added disadvantage of a “clubbed” heel, which gave that foot a natural inclination to “wing in”, and contact the opposite knee.
The faster he went, the harder he hit the near knee, and would absolutely destroy the knee boot after four or five runs. Some knee knockers never learn to handle the impact, while others simply ignore it and get on with the job. Double Identity paid little attention to it.
Harry soon learned that it was best to lower the clubbed heel as far as he could, and use a square toed aluminium shoe, which reduces concussion.
He also had to use “spreaders” - an aid designed to carry the front legs a little wider, thus reducing the impact with the opposite knee.
In Sept 2001 the gelding’s owners established a training property at Joadja on the Southern Highlands, and invited Harry to run the operation, but the trainer had other plans. He intended to establish his own place near Young, and respectfully declined their invitation.
Double Identity won two from eleven for his new trainer Peter Neilsen, who got the job as trainer and property manager at the Joadja complex.
Harry Martin returned as the gelding’s trainer next preparation, and the horse with the questionable pedigree and the troublesome off forefoot struck a purple patch of form. He won eight of his next ten, culminating in the Gr 2 Winter Cup at Albion Park.
The wins just kept coming. The Gold Coast Cup and the Queensland Pacing Championship, a half head second in the Newcastle Mile after breaking early, and then the stage was set for a crack at the 2002 Miracle Mile.
Double Identity was a six year old, and Harry was a sixty two year old, striving to become the oldest driver to win the famous race. He drew the dreaded six gate, and every form analyst predicted he’d be outside the leader on the first turn, but the unexpected happened.
Darren Hancock on Jofess had the opportunity to be behind the leader, but elected to race in the breeze. Double Identity had begun fast from the 6, Harry dived into a gap, and found himself one out on the back of Jofess.
Although not comfortable on the Harold Park circuit, and punching his knee mercilessly, old “Double” peeled three wide on the turn and grabbed the lead on straightening. He just held off Smooth Satin, to win by half a head, and the bloke who once preferred to ride horses rather than drive them, had won Australia’s greatest sprint race.
A couple of months later, in the searing South Australian heat, the knee banging old warrior beat the great Shakamaker in the S.A. Cup at Globe Derby, and he wasn’t finished yet.
Later that year he won his second Queensland Pacing Championship, followed that with a third in Sokyola’s Miracle Mile, followed by an easy win in the Truer Memorial.
And now it was full steam ahead to the Victoria Cup, the race destined to bring forth Double Identity’s greatest performance - his undisputed tour de force. “They went a million miles an hour early, and I couldn’t keep up”, reflected Harry. “I was so far off some outstanding horses; I’d completely given up turning to the back after the bell”.
Harry had to get going at the 600 metres mark, and Double Identity made ground stylishly rounding the turn, but his chances looked forlorn. “I still get tingles watching that replay”, said Harry. “I couldn’t believe how fast he was going past top horses in the straight. He felt like he’d never felt before, and that was his finest performance rating 1.57.2 for 2570 metres”.
The remarkable horse raced on for three years, winning another nine races including the Gold Coast Bulletin Cup, but he never repeated that freakish, unforgettable Victoria Cup triumph. He bowed out, after finishing an uncharacteristic last to Smooth Crusa at Harold Park.
Double Identity died at just ten years of age, following a paddock accident. He was greatly traumatised after crashing into a corner post, and suffered a heart attack soon after. That same fighting heart had carried him through 146 race starts, for an astonishing 51 wins, and 39 placings for $1,255,647.
For owners Peter Gadsby and Brian Lockwood he provided the ride of a lifetime. To Harry Martin, he was the horse that every horseman dares to dream about.
Harry has trained and driven a number of useful pacers over a long period of years. Nevada’s Image, Jody’s Image, Kentucky Bourbon, North Precinct, and more recently Double Event, Double Encounter and Double Bliss. The wily veteran feels Double Bliss might go a good bit further yet.
When you see the word “Double” in a horse’s name, you know Peter Gadsby is at least a part owner. Peter, whose daughter Tina is married to Harry’s son Scott, has been a loyal owner and friend to the trainer.
Harry hasn’t driven in races since his late wife Helen became ill about five years ago. “Caring for Helen became a priority, and I didn’t want to risk injury at that very important time”, said Harry.
In recent times David Morris, Kerry Ann Turner, Glenn McElhinney and Jarrod Alchin have shared the bulk of Harry’s driving, each piloting winners for the multiple Gr 1 winning trainer.
Harry is still going through that very sensitive period of adjustment, following Helen’s passing. With only four horses in work, he could be starting later and finishing later, but the seventy eight year old is a creature of habit. He “kicks in” at 5.30 am, and is wrapped up by 8.30.
Like many old horsemen, Harry bristles at the mention of the word retirement. “What would I do with myself”, he queried. “Horses have been my life for more than sixty years, and I can’t imagine a day without them. My family makes sure I’ve got everything I need, leaving me free to concentrate on my little team of horses”.
And then there are the memories. How many trainers can revel in the afterglow of Miracle Mile and Victoria Cup wins. Harry has always said, the Victoria Cup win was Double Identity’s finest performance. In his quiet moments, you can bet he still relives the thrill of flashing past Jofess, Sokyola, Flashing Red, Jack Cade and Smooth Satin in the Group 1.
Most trainers run a mile if they see a potential “knee puncher”. Harry Martin might be the only trainer in Australia prepared to “try a few things”, just in case there’s another Double Identity waiting in the wings.