Sky is the limit for Smith’s My Mate Mark after eye-catching first outing

HIGH HOPES: Martin Smith with My Mate Mark, who he hopes to have running in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March
HIGH HOPES: Martin Smith with My Mate Mark, who he hopes to have running in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March
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Martin Smith is hoping that in My Mate Mark, he has found a horse that possesses the ability to put his yard on the horse racing map.

Newbury is a notoriously tough venue for debuts to be made, but in the concluding bumper of last Wednesday’s meeting at the Berkshire track, Smith’s previously untested four-year-old looked comfortable among horses trained by the likes of Nicky Henderson, Colin Tizzard and Alan King.

My Mate Mark — a 33-1 shot before the race — led the field inside the final furlong, only to be pipped just before the line by King’s Perfect Harmony.

Nevertheless, while Smith and his wife Michelle, who do much of the work at their Hamilton Road-based facility themselves, have had a number of winners since starting out in 2013, none have caught the eye as much the Irish bay gelding.

“We chucked him in at the deep end and he coped with it brilliantly,” said Smith.

“If you get into a Ferrari, you feel the difference to a normal car straight away — it is the same with him.

“I have sat on lots of good horses, but few have had his quality and physical prowess.

“To have a horse like him, where the sky is the limit, it could move us on to a different platform.

“Michelle and I have had some good young and progressive horses, but nothing that has truly put us on the map.

“My Mate Mark might change that if he progresses how we expect him to over the coming months.”

After such an impressive first outing, Smith now has much higher aspirations for the Strawberry Fields Stud-owned horse in the form of March’s Cheltenham Festival.

Entries for the four-day extravaganza will not be confirmed until nearer the time, but Smith is hoping to have My Mate Mark included within the Grade One Champion Bumper on Wednesday, March 15.

“After seeing him at Newbury, we believe he has the stamina for Cheltenham,” added Smith, son of former jockey Allan.

“It is probably even harder to lead at Cheltenham than it is Newbury, but I am confident because he has come on so well.

“We will have to wait for the entries to come out, but if we can get in the Champion Bumper, I am sure he will do us proud.”

n Staying with the Cheltenham theme, Newmarket trainer Amy Murphy will have Mercian Prince running in the £25,000 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase on Festival Trials Day this Saturday (12.35pm).