Retired Wildcats star Damian Martin has enjoyed massive highs in a decorated basketball career and at Belmont on Wednesday he celebrated a sporting milestone of a different kind.
As part-owner of Red Fifty Three, Martin had the perfect introduction to racehorse ownership when the three-year-old won the Tabtouch Better Your Bet Maiden (1200m) on debut.
Racing outside of the leader, Red Fifty Three took the lead inside the final 200m and defeated Miner Addiction by a half-length with another neck to Rulelee.
And just as Martin was a firm favourite with Wildcats’ supporters, Red Fifty Three also had his share of fans when he started the $2 favourite for his first race start.
Trained by Grant and Alana Williams and ridden by Shaun McGruddy, Red Fifty Three made an immediate return for his big group of owners after costing $42,500 as a yearling.
Martin said it was a thrill to win as an owner in your first race, but what made it even more special was to share it with family and friends.
“My cousins have been involved in racehorses with Grant and Alana and swear by them as trainers,” Martin said.
“I thought now that I was retired, I might have a bit of fun with them.
“It’s more about the banter and having a few laughs, it was good fun.
“I have a lot of uncles and cousins on the east coast who have some ownership in it as well.
“They’re in lockdown and would have watched it and it would have put a smile on their faces.
“It will be an enjoyable afternoon just talking about it.”
Martin won 6 NBL championships, captained the Wildcats, played 342 games, made the All-NBL First Team (2011) and represented the Boomers at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But despite his outstanding record and accomplishments on the basketball court, he admitted to a bout of nerves before Red Fifty Three stepped out.
“I thought I’ would come here and have a quiet day and a bit of fun,” Martin said.
“At the end of it I was watching the race with the heart pumping.
“Seeing him hold them out over the last 200m was really enjoyable.
“It was good in the lead up with the banter between the owners and then to come here on the day and see him win, I’m over the moon.
“I’m not going to lie, that was as good as a Wildcats victory.”
Red Fifty Three was named in honour of Martin’s playing number and Wildcats’ team colours.
Grant Williams says he will take a patient approach with the gelding, but is certain Martin and the owners will enjoy future success.
“We won’t do too much with him this time, maybe give him one more,” Williams said.
“He cops everything pretty good, but is probably a good prep away.”