By Garrick Knight
One of our greatest ever trotting mares has died.
Martina H, the last mare to win the Dominion Handicap, was put down after taking ill suddenly at Woodlands Stud on Monday.
Her former trainer, Derek Balle, said, it was a sad end for the winner of over $400,000, but he looked back fondly on her racing career.
“She was such a great mare.
“Always had lameness issues, but would get up behind the gate or tapes and trot like a stag.
“She had such a big heart. I wouldn’t mind another one like her.”
Balle was in his 30s when she won the Dominion, Rowe Cup, multiple races across the Tasman, and threw away an Inter Dominion Grand Final with the winning post in sight.
“She took me on plenty of journeys and experiences and, at the time, I probably took it for granted a little bit, you know?
“I was a young trainer that got to go to the Inter Dominions at Moonee Valley, down to Addington for the Dominion.
“Just great times and ones I look back on fondly.”
Balle was going through a tough spot at one point during Martina H’s career and her 2005 Rowe Cup win stands out as his personal favourite, for more than the obvious reason.
“Her best performance was beating Delft in the Rowe Cup, but it meant a whole lot more to me.
“My mum was very sick and died about a week later.
“I had been spending a lot of time at the beach with the horse which was such a big stress relief.
“I’d be crying for half an hour on the way out to the beach but when we got there, the worry just went away for a little while.
“She helped me through quite an emotional time.”
She ran second in the 2004 Inter Dominion Final in Melbourne and was 100 metres away from going one better at Alexandra Park a year later.
It was a race that features greats of the track like Take A Moment, Lyell Creek, Delft and Sumthingaboutmaori.
“The final was up to $250,000 but she had had a leg problem leading up to the series and I was tossing up whether to even line her up 10 days beforehand.
“We blistered the leg and she ended up winning her first heat, running second to Allegro Agitato in the second heat and then winning again on the third night.
“Her run in the final was massive.
“She drew one the second row and ended up getting parked three-wide down the back.
“We went out by four at the top of the straight and I thought she was home.
“But I gave her a slap on the bum when I shouldn’t have, because she was trying her hardest, and she rolled in to a gallop 100 metres out.
“Play On, who sat three-fence, came up the markers to win and we got disqualified for galloping across the line.
“She did deserve to win that; it was a massive performance.”
Balle was actually in the throes of buying Martina H, believing that the 22-year-old still had a foal or two to give,
“Kevin Marr, her owner, has just sold his property at Karaka where he grazes all his horses during the year.
“He didn’t want to pay grazing so was looking at selling all his horses and I’d been talking to (wife) Raelene about buying Martina H.
“She had a What The Hill filly foal at foot and was back in foal and since she was always pretty healthy, we thought we might even be able to breed another one out of her to try and get a filly.
“But before we said yes, Kevin text me on Monday to say we’d lost her.
“She was being walked in the barn at Woodlands Stud then stumbled over.
“They called the vet but didn’t know whether it was colic or a seizure but it all went downhill very quickly and they had to put her down.
“It saved me $10,000. Usually with my luck, it would have happened a week after I paid for her.”
The daughter of Sundon had eight foals, seven of them after retiring and did leave a Group 1 winner.
“Miami H was great; he won seven or eight races including a Breeders Crown Final at three.
“He was very very good, and the best she left, but he always had a clubby foot and ended up breaking down in the spelling paddock.”
The Scruff won seven without being a world beater while Philadelphia H won two and is now at stud with Balle training her three-year-old son, Isaac H.
“She had a bad foaling after that, a Dream Vacation which was huge and had to be cut out.
“We nearly lost her and it took her quite a few years to get back in foal after that.
“But we now have a Love You two-year-old colt that’s working up nicely and then the What The Hill weanling filly, too.”
Martina H is seventh on the all-time New Zealand-bred trotting mare stakes ladder behind One Over Kenny, Pride Of Petite, Tussle, Allegro Agitato, Landora’s Pride and Quite A Moment.