TRAINER TALK: JULIE MARLES & CHARLIE WADLAND

by Jake Exelby

TRAINING FOR THE LOVE OF IT

With her shock of blonde curls, Julie Marles has been a well-known figure on the South Midlands point-to-point scene since the late 1980s. She and partner Charlie Wadland have been together for “eleven years… officially” but go back much further. They first met at Pony Club, then have hunted with the Warwickshire for as long as they can both remember! And, long before they were an item, Charlie rode for Julie.

They have been training at Leamington Hastings since 2008. “There was nothing bar 40 acres of land when we arrived,” Charlie recalls. “We built the barn (that stables their horses) and ran it off solar panels. Then  we lived in a caravan for four years until the house was built. We’ve only been on the grid since Spring!”

They have a mile-long grass canter at home, with a woodchip two-furlong canter and also take their horses to Fred Hutsby, David Allen’s training centre at Edgecote and Tom Ellis’ all-weather gallop just up the road. “I use the grass as much as I can,” confirmed Julie. “I’m old-fashioned and like to take it slow and steady.” This year, with the retirement of long-time stable jockey Pete Mann, Sam Davies-Thomas will hopefully take most of the rides, supported by Steph Rogers who has moved from Wales with her horse Teenage Kicks to work in the yard. “Unless I decide to get my licence back,” quips Charlie.

Julie’s first runner – as trainer and then rider – was Langston, who ran until he was 16 but resolutely refused to lose his maiden status! The form book said of the gelding: “injudicious placing has prevented him gaining a richly deserved win”. Julie blames herself for the veteran’s lack of success. “I was so ignorant.” she confesses. “I ran him in Restricteds because I didn’t want to put him in Maidens, thinking he’d be bashed about.”

Julie’s riding career lasted just one season, with her best placing being third and her swansong in the Warwickshire Hunt Members race at Ashorne in 1990, a race won by Charlie on Scaliscro. It is a race that they both hold dear, Julie having had four successes as a trainer and Charlie riding the winner four times including on Northsprite for Julie in 2005.

Charlie’s own riding career was longer – and more fruitful – than Julie’s. Failing to convince me that he had his first ride in 1912, he eventually admits to starting out in 1989 later than most, as he was a serious team chaser, riding for various teams including the Marston Misfits. His breakthrough came a year later, when he teamed up with the aforementioned Scaliscro. “He came from Nicky Henderson,” Charlie tells me, “And I was told he was no fun to ride.” But after starting out with a second, he won four in a row, culminating in the Novices Championship at Garthorpe.”

Over the course of a 20-year career in which he rode 33 winners – including an across the card double at Mollington and Clifton-on-Dunsmore in 2005 – Charlie still rates Scaliscro as the best horse he rode. Others he remembers with affection are Madam Advocate and Anne Cockburn’s quaintly named homebred Hehas, a brother to the likes of Hehad, Hemust and Shedoes!

While Charlie was building a reputation as a rider, Julie was doing the same as a trainer. Her first winner was Tumbril in 1992. “He was a seriously good horse, but had two dodgy legs, so didn’t fulfil his potential. We ran two at Kingston Blount and thought we might win the Maiden, so we ran Tumbril in the Restricted for experience but he won!”

After that, “My career ticked along,” claims Julie modestly. She cites her best horse so far as Midnight King. “We knew he had a problem, as he’d never delivered the goods under Rules. So we hobdayed him and gave him a soft palate operation. Pete Mann came out of retirement to ride him before he’d even won a race.” So no pressure to win first time out then! Midnight King duly delivered at Cottenham and went on to win six of his ten points for Julie.

One horse’s name crops up regularly and is fondly remembered by both trainer and jockey, despite his nickname of ‘Northshite’! To give the poor horse his proper name, Northsprite – owned by long-standing supporter of the yard Janet Bird – was placed 14 times before finally winning his Maiden at ten. However, passing the post in front must have transformed this character, as he went on to win three on the bounce under Charlie as an 11-year-old.

“He was the most infuriating horse in the history of the world,” recalls Julie. “If you gave him a slap or a kick, he’d just go mnnh?” Julie twists her head round and rolls her eyes in shock to illustrate the expression! “One day at Kingston Blount, he unseated at the first and ran nine miles across the Ridgeway. He ended up at a pig farm, and when we finally got him back, he barely had a scratch on him!”

Charlie finally called it a day in his mid-forties after one fall too many. “I’d had a fall at Whitwick Manor and was taken to hospital by air ambulance. Julie said ‘no more maidens’ but I rode one at Kimble and we fell at the third last. A horse landed on top of me and I was out for the count.” Even now, Charlie can’t resist a laugh. “I wanted to go out on a winner, but I went out on my head.”

Julie turns serious for a moment. “It took him a long time to recover from that last knock on the head and from the medical advice he was given to continue race riding wasn't really an option.” Her words bring home the reality of the perils involved with riding horses at speed over fences and talk turns to Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic cycling gold medallist aiming to ride in the Cheltenham Foxhunters in March. “Fair play to her for doing it,” says Julie cautiously, “It’s good for our sport. But is it a bit ambitious? Hasn’t she only just learnt to ride? I admire her and wish her luck, but the Foxhunters?!”

Julie assures me that “Charlie gets riled by very little,” but one subject on which he waxes lyrical is prize money. He’s not the first to tell me that “You can’t cover the cost of diesel by winning a Maiden” and believes that it’s Maidens and Restricteds, rather than Opens, that need an increase. As he admits, “I’d rather win the Aintree Foxhunters and not get a penny. We love the satisfaction of doing a job and don’t do it for the money… but it would be nice to get a reward.”

As ever, I leave this charming couple on a positive note, asking them why they’re involved in point-to-pointing. Julie’s eyes sparkle. “It's about the horses, the people and friends. You either love it or you don’t – we do!”

FIVE TO FOLLOW – JULIE MARLES & CHARLIE WADLAND

All Great N Theory

“Very dear to me and more honest than Jesus! He’s been off since February 2014 and we hope to run him early. We’d like to go to Cheltenham – he’s definitely got the ability.”

Brake Hill

“He’s got one brain cell which previously he shared with Pete Mann! But he’s becoming a racehorse now and was fifth (in the point-to-point bumper) at Aintree. He may run first at Chaddesley Corbett and has to go left handed.”

Castle Connell

Second at Brocklesby Park on his debut then won at Brampton Bryan. He needs cut in the ground. We’d be disappointed if he doesn’t win a Restricted and he could be better than that.”

Glassawine

“He’s got all the ability in the world but doesn’t try. Seems to like female riders so he’ll be ridden by Steph Rogers.”

The Ultimate Lad

“Won at Garthorpe last season and has had a soft palate operation. He’s no worldbeater but is gutsy and brave. We’d like to find a 2m4f Restricted.”