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Group One hungry Lemartinel won’t go to work without lucky charm

Author: Duane Fonseca


THE TALISMAN that hangs from the neck of Eric Lemartinel bears an intriguing testimony to the high demands of his job as the resident trainer at Al Asayl Stables. It is not uncommon to find people wearing amulets like his in this part of the world, and only on inspecting it rather closely can you see a tiny eye formed in the middle of a circle of blue that is about an inch wide in diameter. “It’s called the Turkish Eye,” Lemartinel explains in a hesitant stop start kind of tone. “It’s worn to bring good luck and ward off any kind of evil.”

I ask him if it works. “I’m still alive,” he laughs. Since his 2015 move to Al Asayl Stables, whose patron HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the UAE President, Lemartinel is not only alive, he has thrived and can look forward to perhaps what is shaping up to be one of his best seasons to date. “Like any other stable, at the start of the season we too at Al Asayl start out with a plan and that is to maintain a certain standard and have a certain number of winners every month. So far it’s all been going according to plan,” says Lemartinel, who has 16 winners to show for his efforts so far.

There could easily have been 17 but Lemartinel and his jockey Gerald Avranche were controversially denied the honours in the Group One Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown, which at €1.2 million is the world’s richest race for Purebred Arabians. Lemartinel had won the 2016 edition of the race when RB Burn beat a strong field of runners on his UAE debut under Avranche, who drove him to the wire first again this year, but was ruled to have unfairly blocked the passage of the Muraaqib in the final moments of the race. Muraaqib finished second, but was later promoted.“I don’t want to talk about that race really because it’s passed now but it was very disappointing because the horse and jockey did their job and for me the best horse on the day was RB Burn.

He is the best,” Lemartinel enthused. “We have a good mix of horses at Al Asayl. And there is a time when the young horses maybe need some more time to come through, but we have been doing well and have started the season well yet again.” How much of that is down to the medallion around his neck is hard to compute, but the hard work put in by Lemartinel and his team has put the stable consistently at the top of the rankings in the UAE. The Frenchman finished fourth in his first season at Al Asayl in 2015/16 with 35 winners and was third last season after signing off with 33. His runners contributed heavily to Tadhg O’Shea’s second place finish in last season’s Jockeys’ Championship and saw HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan place a narrow third on a competitive owners’ table. Lemartinel moved to Al Asayl after spending nine years at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club.

A former jump jockey in France, Lemartinel learned his trade with particular emphasis on dealing with Purebred Arabians. And he has excelled as the top Arabian trainer for the past two seasons. He rose to prominence in 2008 when he saddled Mizzna to victory in the Group One Dubai Kahayla Classic on World Cup night. It followed up on the horse’s stunning success in the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown (then National Day Cup), which was his first Group One success in the UAE. Since that Kahayla Classic, he has added a further 14 wins to his Group One tally, winning every top flight race at least once so far. Mizzna was one of his best to date, the mare bringing him five Group One victories. Nieshan was another of his stable stars, contributing four to his Group One tally, including three Al Maktoum Challenge R3 races consecutively from 2011 to 2013.

Despite dominating the Group One scene when it comes to Purebred Arabians, Lemartinel desires more. “That’s my ambition. If you ask me what my goals and ambitions are for a season I would say it is to win more group races, especially the Group Ones. That’s what you want to do as a trainer,” says Lemartinel. “When I started I had only about 25 horses in training and with that low a number you cannot compete against someone like Doug Watson or Satish Seemar, who have more than 100 horses. Even now we have about 60 horses in training and it is good for what we do but to be Champion Trainer it’s tough and it’s never been my objective. “It would be nice to be Champion Trainer if that happened along the way but the focus here for us is to win as many Group One races as possible in a year.

The Championship is always been my second objective.” His lofty Group One ambitions are backed by his methodical and meticulous approach to training. Speaking of his training philosophy, Lemartinel added: “It is always important to have a programme and follow that programme, but the most important thing is to have the horses fit for the first meeting of the season and get them in at the same condition at the end. If the horses aren’t good I will not run them.” In his 12th season in the Emirates, Lemartinel has seen things change all along, but he still feels there hasn’t been much of a difference in terms of the racing. “It’s been more or less the same for the past 12 years. You have the same programme for the Carnival and I’ve seen just about the same number of horses come to race here that used to come 12 years ago.

There’s lesser horses coming from Europe and America and that’s not very good because there are Carnival races with few runners. For the prize money that we have there should be more horses,” says the 53yo. Born in a household that farmed for a living in Normandy, France, Lemartinel worked on a farm until he was 14 and then decided to go to apprentice school in Chantilly. Being too heavy to be a regular flat racing jockey, he decided to carve a niche for himself in jump racing where he enjoyed a fair bit of success.

“Nobody was racing in my family but I always wanted to get into racing. I have over 135 winners as a jump jockey and about 15 as a flat jockey,” Lemartinel says. Training happened next and as they say the rest is history. His older daughter Mary is carrying on along the same path in France and “rides as an amateur and has just started to compete in flat races”. “She has won four races so far,” he says proudly. Maybe she too has one of those talismans hanging around her neck.

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07 Aug 2018
Issue Number: Issue 647
Seemar can only hope for another upward performance from North America
Dubai playing a key role in British racing, says Jockey Club boss
Busybody Tadhg looks to scale mountains after climbing Hills
Nass’ trial and error style seems to be working wonders for him
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