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Business as usual for Martyn Meade as he seeks Derby dream with Eminent

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Fri 2 Jun 2017

Martyn Meade, trainer of leading Investec Derby hope Eminent, talks to Andy Stephens about his past, present and hopes for the future 

Eminent is 7-1 to become the first horse sired by Frankel to win a British Classic at Epsom on Saturday (Racingfotos)

By Andy Stephens 

If Eminent wins the Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday it will be a monumental moment in the stallion career of Frankel. It will also be a notable landmark in the life of a multitasking trainer who is quite like no other.

Martyn Meade saddled his first winner over jumps in 1972 but has since come and gone from the training ranks to concentrate on business and commercial interests all over the world.

It is only since moving from Wiltshire to Newmarket in 2014 that the 69-year-old has been able to give his first love, horses, almost maximum focus.

The businessman-cum-trainer is much more trainer-cum-businessman these days but remains chairman of a Mayfair-based investment company, Hadleigh Partners, which has a portfolio of firms revolving around timber, metal manufacturing, industrial property, builders merchants, aviation and professional services.

A dating agency for the affluent where it costs £15,000 to become a member is included in the last-named category.

Meade offers a simple explanation when asked how he juggles the demands of the city with training a string of 50 at the historic Sefton Lodge stables, plus running Snailwell Stud a couple of miles from his training base where 2005 July Cup winner Pastoral Pursuits stands as a stallion.

"I’ve got really good people running them [the businesses]," he says with a smile. "It’s alright, I just say ‘send more money, send more money'.

"I have have always been at the front end of buying and selling companies but you get to an age where you have done it all. It’s a much younger person’s game. This [training racehorses] is much more sedate for me."

As we look out over the Epsom Downs, following a fluent workout by Eminent at the track, he adds: "Now I devote all my time to training. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and I’m lucky to be able to get to a position where I can be independent and be able to do it."

Meade calculates that he has held a licence for only about eight years. For instance, between 1998 and 2013 he did not train at all for lengthy periods and sent out only ten winners.

The only time he really hit the headlines during that period was during the run-up to the 2010 General Election when he provided William Hague with the helicopter that enabled the then Conservative leader to visit 11 target seats in Scotland in a day.

Dissenting Labour voices said it proved the Tories were a "jet set" party of the rich.

Horses have always featured in Meade's life - as a young man he played polo all around the globe and his father was a National Hunt trainer - but so has the world of finance. For many years, it was his principal calling.

"Business-wise I qualified as a chartered surveyor. Property was my first thing," Meade says. "Then, years and years ago, I bought an engineering company in Slough just by the side of the M4.

"We managed to sell that quite well and I thought maybe I should diversify into engineering, so I did that for about 30 years. Now I’ve got my investment company, Hadleigh, and that has three divisions - timber, a bit of engineering and then the property business, which is industrial."

Meade applies his business acumen to everyday life at Sefton Lodge.

The yard, named after the 1873 Derby winner, had been empty for five years and there was talk of it being turned it into flats before he purchased it, refurbished and began restoring it to former glories.

It has direct access to the Long Hill, Warren Hill and is within a stone’s throw of the Limekilns. His neighbours include John Gosden, Sir Michael Stoute and Luca Cumani yet the move - and chunks of money invested - represented a gamble.

Meade's move to Newmarket from Wiltshire in 2014 has quickly paid dividendsMeade's move to Newmarket from Wiltshire in 2014 has quickly paid dividends

"To plonk myself in Newmarket not knowing anybody, not knowing any gallops, not knowing any staff was a challenge," he said. "As you get older people aren’t going to help you in quite the same way as if you are an aspiring 25-year-old."

Thankfully, good horses have quickly emerged such as Irish Rookie, Aclaim and Eminent. Sefton Lodge is buzzing again.

He prefers quality over quantity and says martialing hundreds of thoroughbreds, as several rival trainers do, would never be for him.

"I’m pretty selective and don’t really want more than 50 at any one time," he said. "These people who have 150 or 200 horses? That’s too many. Once you start to delegate them you are not actually training them. There is no point in that; it’s not for me.

"Just having 50, you are going to struggle because a lot will go wrong or won’t live up to expectations. What we try to do is run it [the yard] a bit [in conjunction] with the stud, so maybe we have a number of horses who go through our hands.

"If they are not good enough they are sold and we just try to keep the better ones. That is the business plan."

The foundations are in place for what Meade hopes will be a success for generations to come. He does not envy younger rivals who enter the fray and, again, the “b” word presents itself as he offers opinions in his distinctive, deep, very English voice.

"If you have to start off looking to make ends meet - and make it into a business that is viable - I think it would be very difficult," he says. "If you are a young person starting off how would you know how successful you are going to be? How do you ever cut your cloth accordingly?

"It was different for me because I can say 'this is my five-year plan and this is what it is going to take to do it'. Whatever comes, comes. Luckily we happen to have bumped into a few nice horses."

A qualified helicopter pilot, who travels mostly by air, he employs a staff of about 25 and is proud of Sefton Lodge now being a family concern which, he hopes, will thrive for generations to come.

Frankel could have the distinction of siring a Derby winner with his first crop (Racingfotos.com)Frankel could have the distinction of siring a Derby winner with his first crop (Racingfotos.com)

His son, Freddie, is his assistant and Dermot Farrington, his son-in law, is also part of the team. The latter was the bloodstock agent who bought Eminent for £157,000 after he walked around Tattersalls unsold as a yearling in the autumn of 2015.

Only one of Frankels first crop was sold cheaper - hardly surprising when in the first place it costs breeders £125,000 to have their broodmares covered by perhaps the greatest thoroughbred to have graced the turf.

"Freddie’s my assistant, which is very important," Meade says. "The whole idea is to build up a proper business going into the future.

"I’m going to hang on as long as I can, until he kicks me out for making mistakes and forgetting things.

"Dermot is part of the team as well and it’s quite fun having everyone involved."

That fun will go off the charts if Eminent wins the Derby in the colours of New Zealand owner Sir Peter Vela.

The imposing colt, one of 19 in Saturday's showpiece, was a striking winner on his only start as a two-year-old and won the Craven Stakes in a record time on his return.

Eminent shaped like a stayer that day but was sent off at 5-1 for what looked a red-hot renewal of the 2,000 Guineas. He could finish only sixth behind Churchill, albeit he was beaten a total of only three and a half lengths.

Meade believes the slow tempo of the race and the fact the contest came just 16 days after the Craven were among the reasons for the reverse.

(Watch below how Eminet won on his debut as a two-year-old)

"There were a combination of factors but he just wasn't the same as in the Craven - we didn’t see that same spark," he said.  "It was very disappointing but it was not the end of the world.

"We had a really good party [that night] and it was a distant memory by the time we got to two o’clock in the morning.

"I’m someone who looks forward rather than back. He’s bouncing again now and has got Derby written all over him for me. The distance is what he has been waiting for."

Meade says horses enjoy routine but has tinkered with Eminent’s usual programme to try to give the colt his best chance in what many observers regard the most open renewal of the Derby for years.

Last week Eminent, a general 7-1, spent the night at Epsom - he had previously never been away from Newmarket - to get accustomed to the place before working with zest over a mile of the course the following day.

It looked a relatively gentle workout but Meade uses modern technology to clock the time of his horses as they work and Eminent, who has a deceptively long stride, clocked 41mph in the final furlong before easing ahead of a stablemate hard on the bridle with his ears pricked.

Visually, he loooked a horse happy in his work and it was much more taking than the gallop of Cracksman, the Derby favourite, on the same track 15 minutes earlier.

"Perfect" was the verdict of the trainer afterwards and champion jockey Jim Crowley, who will again be in the saddle, concurred.

Meade has also recently worked Eminent on the Side Hill canter in Newmarket, which features a left-hand bend, to give him every chance of whizzing around Tattenham Corner without turning a hair.

"He’s an able, flexible horse and coped well with Epsom last week at half-speed and three-quarter speed," Meade said. "He was under no pressure and obviously they will be running downhill much quicker on the day but I think he will cope with it.

"We have used Side Hill in the past couple of weeks and tried to wrong-foot him but he has handled it all very well. It’s flat but he accelerates off it - like a Formula One car.

"He is developing all the time, improving, improving and improving - that’s what is so exciting about him. It’s not like having an old chaser doing the same old thing."

Plenty of water has flowed under the bridge since that first winner for Meade, 45 years ago, and he will cherish having a horse running in the Derby for the first time - let alone one with a leading chance.

"It has to be the greatest race in the world," he says. "How can you compare it? I look at the American races and the high-value races around the world but they mean nothing like the Derby.

"It makes you tingle to think about it. All that background and history, all those wonderful winners over the years and how they’ve all gone on to make wonderful stallions. All the pageantry and support for it. There cannot be anything better."

Meade would love a party to match the one he enjoyed after the 2000 Guineas - this time for all the right reasons.

A Derby victory would undoubtedly be good for business.

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