The Awards THE MARTIN WILLS WRITING AWARDS - 21 Facts

The annual awards are for fine writing by young people around a horse racing theme. They commemorate Martin Wills, a journalist and amateur jockey who died in April 1992, aged 39.

Martin rode several home-trained point-to-point winners, but was less adept on the Flat. Indeed, the Daily Mirror successfully tipped one of Martin’s horses because of the change of jockey from Martin, the amateur owner, to the very professional Pat Eddery. DISREGARD THIS FORM, it sagely advised in large bold type!
The Awards were the idea of Johnny Henderson, after whom The Grand Annual Chase at the Cheltenham Festival is named and who was the father of leading NH trainer Nicky. Johnny’s rationale was that the Awards combined two of Martin’s great loves: racing and writing.
  • The inaugural senior winner, in 1993, was Chris McGrath, with an atmospheric piece on Listowel Raceweek. Then a recent Sporting Life recruit, he has subsequently been a racing writer on The Times and The Independent. He was voted HWPA Racing Writer of the Year in 2007 and 2013.
  • A joint runner-up in 1993 was Donn McClean with a homage to Dawn Run entitled The Greatest in Living Memory. Then a 23 year old market research consultant from Co Louth, he is now the main racing writer for The Sunday Times in Ireland and has ghost-written four racing autobiographies including those of AP McCoy and Mick Fitzgerald
  • In 1994, the senior winner was trainer Andrew Balding, then a 21 year old student at The Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. His piece, about a South Californian racing festival, was entitled Mid-Summer Madness-the Del Mar Way.
  • Racing Post journalist Jonathan Mullin, then a 16 year old schoolboy from Co Mayo, was the 1994 junior winner with Bloodshed-the Fastest Pig in Ireland.
  • The senior runners-up in 2002 and 2006, Amy Bennett and James Milton, both went on to write for the Racing Post.
  • The 2003 senior runner-up, Catherine Austen, then a recent recruit to Horse & Hound, became that magazine’s Racing, Hunting and Polo Editor.
  • The youngest senior winner was the 2005 laureate, Stephan Djukics, a 17 year old schoolboy at St Paul’s School, London (who would also have been eligible for the under 19 award).
  • The most original opening sentence was “I am a tree”, in fact a winning post, by 10 year old Rosanna Verdon, who received a special prize in the under 15 category in 2008 (the year after its introduction).
  • Susie Eddis from Essex won the under 15 award as a 10 year old in 2012. Her sister Lucy, a venerable 11 year old, had merely been runner-up two years earlier. Two other siblings, Jack and Tom Cantillon, from Co Kildare, have won three awards between them: the under 19 award in 2009 (Jack), the under 15 award in 2010 and the under 19 award in 2013 (Tom).
  • 2012 joint senior winner Patrick Mullins has been Irish Champion Amateur Jockey for the last six years. His article, on his tragic experience when riding Dooneys Gate in the 2011 Grand National, was published as the principal comment piece in The Daily Telegraph on the day before the 2012 Grand National.
The largest entry was 169 in both 2009 and 2010. The smallest entry was 45 in 1994, before the advertising of an under 19 category and the only year when the senior age limit was under 24 rather than under 26.
  • There have only been two Chairmen of the judges: John Oaksey (1993-2002) and Brough Scott (2003-), both of them distinguished racing journalists actively involved in charities (of which the Martin Wills Memorial Trust is one).
  • The only judge in all 24 years is Catherine Wills, Martin’s sister. She was awarded a D Phil for her thesis on eminent Victorian portrait painter Sir Francis Grant PRA and was four times placed in the demanding Melton Hunt Cup cross country race.
  • Peter O’Sullevan (”the voice of racing”) and the then up-and-coming Paul Hayward were the other judges in the inaugural year 1993. Judges have always been unpaid.
  • Marcus Armytage was a judge in 1996 and has been on several occasions in recent years since being appointed a trustee. As an amateur jockey winning the Grand National on Mr Frisk in 1990, he holds the course record at 8 minutes 47.8 seconds - averaging over 30 mph – as he would say proof conclusive that amateurs go too fast!
  • Clare Balding was a judge in 1997, as was Simon Barnes. Simon, for several years the chief sportswriter for The Times, was again a judge in 2012.
  • The onerous task of drawing up a short list, typically of 20-24, has been performed by Catherine Wills (1993-), George Ennor (1993-2005) and Sean Magee (2006-).
  • Each presentation has taken place at Newmarket Racecourse, initially in the autumn but for many years at the Craven Meeting in mid-April. Newmarket Racecourse, the Racing Post and The Irish Field have been stalwart supporters of the Awards
  • A feature of each presentation day morning in the first 21 years was a visit for the winners to the yards of trainers Sir Henry Cecil (who died in June 2013) and James Fanshawe. The Fanshawe yard visit continues. Another feature of presentation day is that the senior winner receives for a year a large bronze of two galloping horses by Gill Wiles.