John Martin has played the highest level of Australian squash, but now some 25 years after reaching his peak in that sport, the Mines Manager, now calls his harness racing his favourite sport.
“I wasn’t born into a racing family, but I remember going to the Maitland Trots as a kid and really enjoyed it. You can blame Justin Le Lievre in New Zealand for getting me into owning and breeding full-on back in 2012.
“Later on, our Syndicate fueled my fire. Then my love of the sport really grew thanks to people like Peter and Leean Bell from Egmont Park Stud, Grant and Trista Dixon, and latterly Geoff and Trent Dawson,” Martin said.
The 56-year-old was born in Brisbane, but grew up and was educated in Newcastle.
“When I left school, I was fortunate enough to be accepted by the Australian Institute Of Sport in Brisbane where I played top level squash against some of the best squash players in the world including Rodney Martin (no relation).
“Sadly, my parents were not rich and we couldn’t afford the $15,000 back in the 1980s to get me on the world circuit. It was about that time I met my wife Tracey, and then not long after that I applied for a job through the Queensland Coal Owners Association.
“They picked three or four new recruits a year and fortunately I was selected. Then over the years I went from the floor to mining face, then superintendent before managing my own department,” Martin said.
“Recently I took on a new contract with Kestrel Coal Resources based in Emerald (North Queensland). I am a contract supervisor in the underground mining department,” he added.
But Martin insists, had he not been a pro squash player or Mines Manager, his dream was to be a trotting driver.
“I helped Queensland horseman, Paul Matis, in my younger days at Purga and got a big thrill out of that. Paul actually got me my first horse – a gelding named Dicky Di Doe.
“That was in the early 1980s and then I got out of the game for a while before meeting up with Justin Le Lievre from Christchurch.
“That’s when I started importing New Zealand horses and formed our ‘New Beginnings Syndicate’ comprising myself, David Ajala, and the Brunker brothers, Rod and Kevin and Kevin’s son Kyle.
“We’ve had a lot come over from New Zealand like Moonlight Spirit, Applause, Tandy Franco, Our Charisma, Walking In Memphis to name a few.
"When four of our horses broke down at the same time, we decided to take up breeding. We have bred from some lovely mares over the years. Moonlight Spirit (2008 McArdle mare) left us Toanui Spirit (By Mr Feelgood), who is now rising four. She is closely related to the great Pure Steel and is the best we’ve got at the moment.
“She also left rising 3-year-old name Hurrikane Spirit (by Hurrikane Kingcole), and a rising 2-year-old by Gotta Go Cullect that sadly died of colic.
"Tancaltra Lis, which includes letters from our wives first names also goes well. She is another Hurrikane Kingcole filly who turns three at the end of the year," Martin said.
He insisted Egmont Park made the breeding and owning experience much more enjoyable.
“Peter and Leean are fantastic people and a real credit to the breeding industry. What they don’t know about standardbreds isn’t worth knowing.
“They are so obliging and friendly and their knowledge is unbelievable. I wouldn’t want to have my horses anywhere else. They give so much attention to detail, and they give the horses the best possible care in a high class facility,” Martin said.
“I wouldn’t want to have my horses with anyone else. They treat their horses like gold and Leean knows everyone by name. The same with Justin. He set us up early on with some lovely imports. There are some wonderful people in harness racing,” he added.
The praise came after a tough month or so for Martin and his Syndicate owners.
“We’ve had a horror period with two of his yearlings dying in recent weeks, but I guess that’s racing and mother nature isn’t it? A Hurrikane Kingcole – Tandy Franco gelding snapped his leg and before that we lost a Midnight Spirit colt to colic.
“It’s been a rough old time for the Brinkers too. Kevin is going through chemotherapy and Kyle is a quadriplegic, but they are both very positive people and I love when our horses win, because those guys deserve a lift,” said Martin.
But their three other horses at Egmont Park are thriving. They are a Gotta Go Cullect – Midnight Spirit yearling, a Gotta Go Cullect – Our Charisma filly, and a Gotta Go Cullect - Walking In Memphis yearling filly.
“The horses get the best possible start at Egmont Park and then the Dixons and the Dawsons weave their magic.
“Grant and Trista have been amazing with our team and got us going and went to Geoff Dawson who now breaks our horses in. Then they are trained by Geoff’s son, Trent. They have done brilliant jobs.
“In fact, I rate Trent as one of the best and most underrated horsemen in Queensland. He’s a special driver who has a special way with his horses,” Martin said.
The Martins have three adult children named Chris, Stephanie, and Aiden.