Martello Sky saw her odds slashed to 12-1 from 16-1 with Betfair for the Grade One Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at The Festival (Cheltenham, Tuesday 15th March) following her impressive victory in the Listed Unibet 3 Uniboosts A Day Mares' Hurdle at Sandown Park today.
Each of the five runners looked to hold a chance as the field entered the home straight but it was Martello Sky – at odds of 2-1 - who took a decisive advantage two out and she was not for passing as she kept on to score by a length and three-quarters from Anythingforlove.
The six year old grey was eighth in last season’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle but has now won four of her five subsequent starts, with today’s success adding to two victories at Cheltenham (a Listed race in April and a handicap in December) plus a win at Market Rasen. Entries for the 2022 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle will be revealed on Tuesday (11th January).
Martello Sky is trained by Newmarket-based Lucy Wadham, who said afterwards: “Down the back he’s (Aidan Coleman) wondering ‘am I going to pull her up?’ but once she got in amongst the horses she just took off through them and she’s ended up hitting the front a bit soon, actually. She’s just very tough.
“The improvement has been fantastic. We were probably well-in at the weights today but she’s defied the odds to do that and she’ll probably have a break now until Cheltenham and we’ll have a look at the Mares’ Hurdle.
“She’s tough as old boots and just loves her racing. She’s so much more relaxed now than she used to be – she used to be a bit keen but now you can just switch her off and that helps her.
“We’re just so lucky to have her. She’s had a couple of really hard races so we’ll freshen her up by giving her a break before Cheltenham.”
In a separate interview with Racing TV, Wadham added: “She’s an absolute joy to train. She’s always very generous in her work at home and very tough out on the track.
“I thought going down the back Aidan might be pulling her up because she looked like she was struggling with the ground but as soon as he put her back in the race in the home straight she’s absolutely flown through them and she’s probably hit the front a bit too soon. But she’s as tough as they come and fantastic to train.
“She’s definitely improved – the handicapper thinks she’s improved over a stone and he’s not normally very far wrong. She looks a much stronger filly. I know she’s not a very big filly but she looks much stronger and there’s no question she’s improved.”
Asked about her chances at the Cheltenham Festival in March, Wadham added: “Until we see the entries it’s hard to say but she’s a dual winner at Cheltenham and that day she nearly actually fell at the second hurdle so Bryony (Frost) gave her a chance to recover and then she came back on the bridle down the hill so she finished like a train.
“That’s where we’ll be looking next and we’ll give her a break before then. That’s eight from 12 now and it’s pretty remarkable. She just loves her racing.
“It’s great for us because we’ve trained most of the family, all fillies, and Tim Wood who bred her was a great supporter of ours but sadly no longer with us but his brother and sister are very much to the fore and it’s a great story really.”
Winning jockey Aidan Coleman said: “That’s three races in a row I’ve won on her now. She’s a credit to connections and she’s a very, very easy ride. I don’t have to do a lot.
“She was good and tough, which she needed to be in those conditions, so I’m very happy.
“I wasn’t happy down the back, she got in underneath and she didn’t jump with her usual zest probably because she was struggling a bit with the ground but it’s a credit to her and her heart that once I got her in amongst a couple, upsides Paige (Fuller) and Jody (McGarvey) came on my other side, she really shot through that gap.
“She probably put the race to bed a little bit soon because she has idled from there on but that’s just a credit to her mental and physical toughness more than anything else because I think she did struggle on the ground.”
Asked whether she has improved this season, Coleman added: “I think on form she looks like she has. She’s a mare that’s jumped better progressively and she’s probably going with a bit of confidence but she’s also been extremely well placed as well.
“Her Cheltenham race back in the spring Lucy found the best opportunity possible and she was 10-11 to win a Listed race and then the last day she was very tough as well at Cheltenham. And then today she probably has improved, yeah.”
Moulins Clermont, who joined trainer Gary Moore’s yard last year from France, opened his account on his second start in Britain by winning today’s opening contest, the Unibet Extra Place Races Every Day Juvenile Hurdle Race over two miles.
The 13-length victory came just eight weeks after being soundly beaten at Fontwell on his UK racecourse debut, a result which surprised trainer Gary Moore at the time.
Speaking after today’s victory, Moore said of the successful 5-6 market leader: “I couldn’t believe it at Fontwell, honestly. It’s only a few weeks ago – whether he hadn’t acclimatised or not I don’t know. But I couldn’t see him getting beaten at Fontwell but he got well beaten in an average sort of race.
“He’s always been a good work horse and has always worked well. I thought he would win today but I was never over-confident because of what he’d done at Fontwell.
“He did it nicely though. He’s still a baby and like Jamie (Moore, jockey) said, he was pricking his ears all the way and was still green all the way round.
“He’s a chaser in the making. He’s not a three year old off the Flat who hasn’t got another day in him.”
Asked about where he might send him next, Moore replied: “I don’t know. I don’t know whether you sling him in the trial at Cheltenham or not? I don’t know. I’d rather go somewhere small and get his confidence up a bit more, personally.
“He’s not really had a race here and he could really do with a race.”
Jamie Moore added: “At the start, I was going to take a lead but Paddy (Brennan) and Harry (Bannister) looked like they were going too slow for me so I thought I need to make this a bit more of a test and I skipped on past them going to the first.
“He’s a relentless galloper this horse. He disappointed us at Fontwell when we thought he was an absolute certainty because work-wise, of all the juveniles we have got, he was probably working better than all of them. I went to make the running at Fontwell but he got very rushy early on and didn’t jump well – he just kind of took time to acclimatise during the race.
“I remember we had a horse called Darebin, who runs later today, who we thought was a certainty first time and he did the same but once he had a run under his belt he was as good as gold. Because our horses are usually so well-schooled for their first run, we didn’t think it would be an issue but some horses do just need their first run.
“Hopefully, now we have this win under his belt we probably want to make hay while the ground is wet because the spring ground wouldn’t suit him.”