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From The Archives - Trainer Martin Keighley

Martin Keighley started his career at that legendary academy of racing that has produced so many great horsemen, the yard of the late David Nicholson, from where Martin now trains. Martin has made an excellent start to the new jumps season and talked to Thoroughbred People about his experiences, views and his career so far.


How It Started

I started riding out for local trainer Steve Norton in my school holidays and then did a week’s work experience with David Nicholson from school, as I was more interested in jump racing, and he offered me a job when I left school.

First Big Race Memories

Desert Orchid winning the 1989 Gold Cup.

First Job In Racing

Stable lad for David Nicholson

My Start as a Trainer

My now wife Belinda’s parents bought Bosuns Mate for her to ride and me to train from Nigel Twiston-Davies, as I was based there and Nigel told me he was for sale.  They both won their first Hunter Chase at Sandown in February 2003, a very proud moment. I then gradually built up a few horses to train in point to points and was working part time at Cheltenham Racecourse on their ground staff team at the same time.

The Best Things about Training Racehorses

I love the horses, being outdoors and giving people fantastically enjoyable days when their horses win.

The Toughest/ Most Challenging Parts of the Job

Injuries to horses and having to break bad news to owners.  Also having to deal with owners’ friends’ opinions as they are the ones who are sure they can train far better than I can!

What I’m Better at Now Than When I Started

I hope I’m getting better at placing horses – a vital part of the job.  You are learning all the time so I obviously hope that I am continuing to improve in every aspect of my job.

My Kind of Horse

How would you describe your kind of horse?

I like an athletic chasing type but not too big.  Kind eye, big ears.

Which confirmation faults can you live with and which do you have trouble getting past?

A weak top line can be worked on.  A lot of horses have one fault or another but often win despite many confirmation faults so I keep an open mind as if they are genuine lots can be overcome.

My Horses

Most Gratifying Training Performances

Mark of Love winning after nearly 1000 days off the track for my sponsors 7 Day Catering, who all had a big bet on him that day – no pressure for me then!

Benbane Head, Champion Court and Wolf Moon (twice) all winning at Cheltenham the Mecca of Jump Racing – an amazing thrill and something I will never get bored of.

Any horse coming back to win after an injury gives me great pleasure and can be quite emotional.

Tricky to Train

Benbane Head, my first Cheltenham winner, has had plenty of problems this season.  Returned from a tendon injury only to get an infection in his cheekbone which needed operating on.  We then discovered he needed a wind operation.  I’ve not lost faith in him though and can’t wait to see him jump a fence.

Horses That Might Have Been

Rodrigo Gonzales, the horse who put us on the map, and was so exciting over hurdles in his first season.  He then had plenty of problems and although he returned to win at Bangor over fences he never regained that form again and has just been retired.

Hardest Triers

Past: Palmers Peak. Won point to points for me and was twice our first winner of the season under Rules.  My wife Belinda won a point on him and rode him out every day and absolutely adored him.

Present: Sky Calling. A superb mare who doesn’t know when to stop.  She’s come back from 18 months off and won over fences and hurdles in 9 days and hopefully there’ll be more to come.

Biggest Equine Personalities & Characters

Past: Bosun’s Mate. Our first winner under Rules – a hunter chase with Belinda on board.  He saw monsters everywhere and had dropped everyone who rode him when he was at Twiston-Davies’ yard and was just as bad here.  A real superstar though and a sad day when he retired as he was far too naughty and  spooky to do any other job.

Present: Benbane Head. The apple of my eye and I absolutely adore him.  He’s had his problems but was our first winner at Cheltenham in October 2010 and he knows he’s special – a real Tom Cruise of the racehorse community!

Quickest, Most Natural Speed

Past: Mark of Love. Hard to keep sound, but so quick.

Present: Benbane Head. Finds it all so easy on the gallops, at home in particular.

Most Highly Strung/Difficult

Past: Ocarito. A very difficult horse to settle at home and in a race and the reason we never managed to win a race with him, he just wouldn’t settle but had the ability to win. Very frustrating.

Present: Nothing – long may it continue!

Hardest Pullers

Past  Glinton. He came to me from Pam Sly who was a part owner, as no-one in her yard could hold him.  A complete runaway which we managed to switch off a little but never gave himself a chance to win a race.  Another frustrating horse with ability, who didn’t help himself.

Present Won More Night. Settling a lot more in her races, touch wood, and has managed to win this year over hurdles and fences, but she makes life difficult for herself too.


Past:  Bosun’s Mate. A monkey in his races who, even though he won a hunter chase for us at Sandown never managed to win even a point-to-point after that, purely down to laziness!

Present: Monty’s Revenge. Has matured at home no end this season and works well now, but hasn’t taken this onto the track with him and needs pushing from the word go.  We are yet to see whether he’s any good as he fell just as he was getting into the race recently at Southwell and has injured his knee.

Hardest To Keep Sound

Past: Prince Dundee. We were advised to have him put to sleep as he broke down two weeks after we bought him.  We gave him a chance and he won 3 point-to-points including our first and then was Belinda’s last winner the day she retired from pointing. He went on to become our first winner under Rules too.

Present: Any Currency. He has sustained a season finishing leg injury in both the 2009/2010 season and the 2010/2011 season – the latter when he was being aimed at the Grand National.  Not too serious, he’ll return for the 2011/2012 season and I’ll be doing my utmost to get him there – plenty of sleepless nights!

Best Work Horses

Past: Mark of Love. He did win a race for us but then went wrong sadly and was retired.  Awesome work horse.

Present: Champion Court & Benbane Head. Both superb in their work and great when they are at the same stage as they can work together at home. We struggle to get others to go with them.

My Personal Favourites

Past: Prince Dundee & Bosun’s Mate, who started it all for us.

Present: Any winner!

Best Jumpers Of A Hurdle

Past: Love of Tara. Very clever and won three races for us under three different jockeys – a steering job when she was well.

Present: Total Submission. Very good although I’m hoping he’ll be even better over fences this coming season. A smashing horse.

Best Jumpers of a Fence

Past: Palmers Peak. He was awesome on the fast ground that he loved. When he won his maiden point with Belinda he was only 75% fit but his jumping won it for him. Under Rules he was still awesome and regularly stood off outside the wings. We have some amazing pictures of him the day he won at Kelso.

Present: Brimham Boy. Very quick and clever and lovely to watch.

Horses to Follow

Champion Court & Benbane Head over fences. Hard to Swallow over hurdles


Horses From The Past

Relkeel. I rode him in his first bumper. Sadly leg problems stopped him getting to the Champion Hurdle – he was too fragile for the general public to see how good he was.

Jockeys From The Past

Richard Dunwoody. The ultimate professional and a massive help to me when I was a kid just starting to race ride.

Trainers From The Past

David Nicholson. An absolute legend and a pleasure to work for.  He shouted at you like no-one else when you’d done something wrong and then it was forgotten.  Taught me so much and we miss him a lot.

Current Racing Presenters

Luke Harvey is one in particular that is always full of praise for our yard which is a massive help. Also a great fan of Alice Plunkett and Alistair Down but the list could go on and on as lots are fantastic.

Current Commentators

The wife’s favourite is Mike Cattermole..!

Racing Changes

Best Changes in Racing in Recent Years

I love the extra day at The Cheltenham Festival although not great for the liver!

Changes I Would Like To See Happen in Racing For Myself as a Trainer

- Two or three weeks of no jump racing in the summer, so I can get away with no worries about runners.  I’d only be away for a week but a two or three week break from racing would do no one any harm.

Changes I Would Like To See Happen in Racing For Myself as a Trainer

- More Prize Money. It is galling for owners to win a race and then, after deductions they sometimes hardly pay for that month’s training fees. It makes it hard to keep owners in the game in these days of recession.

- The Handicappers to drop horses as fast as they put them up ….. Or put them up slower. One horse can have one great day and win impressively, be put up 10lbs and have no chance of winning again, then it takes 2 years to come back down to their original mark.  This again is not helping us trainers keep owners in the game.

Changes I Would Like To See Happen In Racing to Improve the Popularity and Health of Racing

Courses allowing free entrance for one or two meetings a year, to encourage those who wouldn’t usually go. I am convinced they would then pay to go again.

Key Staff

Head Lad/Assistant Trainer

Stuart ‘Stretch’ Baker – new to our yard and still learning the ropes but as keen as mustard and will stay all day until the job is done.

Head Girl

Alice Reader – Bubbly personality. Very experienced and very good with the veterinary side. It’s essential to have someone like Alice in the yard as she picks everyone’s mood up and is always in great form.


Belinda Keighley – she’s typing this as I dictate so I obviously can’t praise her more highly!  She started riding out for David Nicholson every day before school when she was 12 years old and we met there four years later. Superb with the owners and the marketing side too.  We have two young sons, Freddie and Harry, so she can’t ride out everyday anymore but makes the most of it when she can.  Helps to be married to my Secretary as we often spend evenings doing entries online and she’s never off duty!

Bloodstock Agent

Gerry Hogan who was based with me at David Nicholson’s yard many years ago.  We have an impressive strike rate – something like 95% of the horses he’s bought for owners in the yard have won.


No foot no horse - and Nick is a fantastic farrier who is so easy to work with and gets on really well with staff and owners too which is vital.

To Prospective Owners

Do you have room for any more horses at the moment and if so what can you tell potential owners about the experience you can offer them?

Always room for nice new horses. We are a friendly but ambitious yard and you are able to visit your horses whenever you like and watch them regularly on the gallops.  It’s a real fun atmosphere and we celebrate our winners in style at our local, The Plough at Ford! All our owners feel part of one big family and everyone supports everyone else’s horses which we love.

Horses for Sale

Do you have currently have any horses for sale to stay in the yard?

We often have shares available in horses and my bloodstock agent Gerry Hogan usually knows of a nice new horse for sale. Give me a ring!

If I Had To Swap Being Me to Become Someone Else In Racing for a Few Days...

Paul Nicholls – to see what different pressures there are training many more horses, but also having to manage expectations on a greater scale.  I am sure I would learn masses too!


See Martin's Website Here -




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