Ed Chamberlin talks to top Newmarket trainer William Haggas about life in lockdown, his sporting heroes, raiding Australia and more.
How are things at your stable during the current lockdown?
We’re bearing up pretty well, we have horses to exercise and horses to feed. We are in a business that deals with livestock and we have to look after them regardless of what’s going in the outside world, just like farmers have to. We’re doing everything we can to stick to the government guidelines on social distancing and keeping everything as clean and healthy as possible.
How are your staff? How many do you employ for starters?
About 80 people and we haven’t had to lay anyone off. Interestingly we’ve had more offers of people wanting to come work here than ever before. I’ve spoken to a few trainers in the town and they’re telling me the same. Perhaps it’s the same group of people going around every yard but there seems a willingness to work and providing we can get going again sometime in May, I think the owners will accept keeping horses in training is the right thing to do.
Horses on the gallops in Newmarket
I read a quote from you saying about 70% of trainers work to live full stop. It must be so hard for some?
I fear terribly for all trainers who are small in numbers and who rely on owners who have businesses to run. You think of people who run restaurants for example where one cooks and the partner runs front of house. All of a sudden they have no income whatsoever. Small trainers are going to be under the cosh like small businesses with people taking horses away. At the moment there’s no outlet to sell a horse unless you sell it online so it’s very hard to know what to do. Every trainer I’ve spoken to has had horses taken away away in the right spirit, because all of us, everywhere, are looking at costs.
What a boost to morale the performances of your two horses, Addeybb and Young Rascal, must have been in Australia. What has it meant to you?
It’s been wonderful and a huge fillip for us personally and the boys out in Australia who have been doing such a good job. It was great viewing early in the morning, absolutely fantastic.
Young Rascal returns in triumph in Sydney
Has it been something of a long-term plan with both?
Certainly with Addeybb. After Royal Ascot last year I was thinking where can he go where he’ll get soft ground? Being a gelding he has no residual value other than the prize money he wins and he previously hadn’t been quite up to Group One standard in England. He ran a magnificent race to finish second to Magical in the QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot in the autumn and on heavy ground had a chance of winning one. But I was thinking, which country around the world can you get soft ground over a mile-and-a-quarter? There isn’t one bar France, Germany or Australia. Hong Kong is a no-go, Japan is a no-go, Singapore is a no-go and Australia became the one where you might get the rain. Whenever I’d seen the championship races at this time of the year they seemed to be run in torrential showers and the plan for Addeyybb to head there started soon after he won the Wolferton.
Addeybb wins the Wolferton – and a plan is hatched
I’ve been following your team out there on social media and it’s been absolutely fascinating. I presume the plan remains to head to Sydney on Saturday all-guns-blazing?
It absolutely is. I’ve had a lot of calls from the press in Australia and I’m delighted to say they’ve been very pleased with Harry Eustace in particular for his openness with them which is very good for all of us up here. The two horses worked on Tuesday morning and came through it fine. They seem very happy, everything is hunky dory, now we just need some rain.
Are you glued to the Australian weather forecasts?
I’ve grown out of watching too many weather forecasts. My wife watches them all the time in England but they’re pretty inaccurate and only good to look at if you’re getting what you want. If you want rain and they’re predicting five days of sunshine you rather give up, there’s nothing we can do about it. But if it does rain in Sydney and the track is genuinely soft, it gives them both a better chance. I’ll be tuning in. Young Rascal runs at 6.15 in the Sydney Cup, which is more civilised than last week, then Addeybb goes in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at 6.55.
I must ask you about the man on board, Tom Marquand. Just how talented is he?
He’s going very well and is in the right place at the moment. He’s going down a storm in Australia but has been in England too, ever since he emerged from pony racing. He’s a nice, polite, young man who is doing very well and is full of confidence. He’s a very strong rider too and I’ve said several times I believe him to be a future champion over here. I hope he stays in England to prove it.
Tom Marquand wins aboard Addeybb in Sydney
Is having runners in Australia something you’ll do more of in the future?
For sure. I’ve always been up for it, especially in Sydney, but the problem is it’s April time and you’re preparing horses for a spring campaign in England. The fact these two are both gelded is a factor. For example Young Rascal was going to run in the John Porter at Newbury for £34,000 and instead is 6/4 favourite for a $1m race. You don’t need to be Einstein to work out where we should be. I’ll give it another try and I guess everyone else will too.
Let’s turn to domestic matters. Do you think a resumption in May is realistic?
From all the messages I’m getting, and I speak to a lot of people every day, there’s a real willingness to start. As an industry we are ready providing we get the go-ahead. I suspect we’re going into lockdown for longer though and we won’t be able to move until we see a glimmer of hope that it’s going to be relaxed. From that point of view racing can’t do anything but wait, but I do feel all the right people are making the right noises that a resumption is possible when the country is allowed to.
Within that explain how important it will be to the industry to keep the Classics in some guise?
That’s crucial. Sadly I don’t look like having many participants this year but it’s crucial to the future of the breed and to miss a year with no Classic would be a disaster for the industry. To stage them we have to get racing as soon as we can. You can’t realistically stage a Classic until probably a month into the season. The sooner we start, the sooner we can those scheduled back in and back to some sort of normality. It’s going to be a difficult year though. There are a lot of horses the breeze-up boys have that they need to move and we need to get into our horses to find out if they’re worth keeping before the owners potentially reinvest in the autumn, if there are any left. It’s a precarious time for the industry but let’s get it into context, it’s a precarious time for everyone in the world. I can only see racing behind closed doors for a considerable time, if not the rest of the year, and whether we’ll be able to transport horses to France and Ireland for their Classics – and vice versa – is hard to envisage at the moment. It would mean that group races won’t be pattern races as they’re restricted. There are lots of problems, lots of facets and nobody knows what’s going to happen. The most important thing is we’re ready to start and have every angle covered when we can. It will be a drip-feed return to action but we have to get going at some stage and be responsible enough to make sure we can do it without affecting anyone else unduly.
William Haggas: A trainer’s life in lockdown
You’re on the Pattern Committee – do you agree with Andrew Balding’s suggestion of delaying the Classics by a month for example?
I don’t see how that would work, just forget the first month of the season and carry on with the rest of it. I think it will be all change and one of the issues we find on the pattern committee is finding a slot for a suitable race which doesn’t interfere with any other country. France are not going to run their Classics in early May so I’m sure will look to switch to later in the month or year. Will they clash with the rearranged English Classics then? There’s only a certain amount of time to get the races in for every country. The important thing for every jurisdiction is to get started. Once we do that we can make some plans but it’s a minefield. The pattern committee had a conference call and discussed lots of things but didn’t have any answers because quite frankly there can’t be any at this stage. It’s very difficult.
Let’s change tact. What’s your favourite cricketing memory – either a player of spectator?
Well sadly not as a player because I wasn’t good enough, but the 2005 Ashes Series was the best advert for Test cricket you could possibly have. Incredible sportsmanship and fantastic matches that went all the way. When you have people queuing outside for the fifth day it’s a a sign of something special. The World Cup final last year was very special too. Let’s be honest New Zealand were robbed in a wonderful match and how sporting they were in defeat was a credit to them all. I can’t imagine how we’d have bleated if the result had gone the other way. I loved Adam Gilchrist, the Australian wicket-keeper, as a player. He nicked a ball, tucked the bat under his arm and walked off without waiting for the umpire. I’m in that school too. Headingley ’81 was great and we’ve been watching it again recently but 2005 was just unbelievable. Every game so was so close, so hard-fought, it was fantastic.
Andrew Flintoff consoles Brett Lee after arguably the best ever Ashes Test
Who’s your favourite sportsman or sportswoman of all time?
I suppose I have to say my father-in-law (Lester Piggott); he was a legend in our business. I find it almost impossible but I’ve always thought a sportsman’s greatest attribute is humility and from that point of view Roger Federer has been a modern day great. When he’s taken to five sets he never says ‘I’ve got ‘flu or I feel terrible’. He praises his opponents. What a sportsman he is. Absolute class.
Roger Federer – class act
Your favourite racecourse?
We’ve had a lot of luck at York so I’d have to say there, but I love Newmarket because it’s close and I did love Yarmouth but they’ve shut the Seafood Restaurant near the docks which has rather curtailed my trips there.
What is your favourite restaurant near a racecourse?
It was Seafood Restaurant in Yarmouth, we’d been going for years and most Newmarket trainers used to eat there before going to the races. It was fabulous.
El Gran Senor has the measure of Chief Singer in the 2000 Guineas
Best horse you’ve seen?
The best race I saw was El Gran Senor’s Guineas. I was young at the time and affected by that sort of thing. In terms of best horse. I’ve always been more Sea The Stars than Frankel. The latter was more exuberant and a brilliant, brilliant horse, but Sea The Stars kept doing it and had he been kept in training at four I think he’d have won everything all over again. He just turned up and got the job done. He didn’t win by very far but was fantastic in the Arc. A little like Black Caviar, because Frankel and in her case Winx came along so soon after, the older horse’s performances get rather shuffled under the carpet a bit. I thought he was a great horse. My mother had a wonderful jumper who gave her some hope in her life after my father left her. He was called Silver Buck and has a very fond place in my heart too.
What’s the most talented horse you’ve trained?
Shaamit must have been talented because he won the Derby first time out as a three-year-old and only one other horse in the long history of the race has done that. He was never the same afterwards but must have been very talented to do what he did. We only had about 40 horses at the time with a couple of useful ones to help him along. In the modern day Sea Of Class had a turn of foot unlike any we’ve had. She was a very, very classy filly who sadly we lost in tragic circumstances. I was very proud of her, even when she was beaten in the Arc as disappointed as I was not to win it. I was so proud of how she’d performed. She was fantastic and James Doyle in the Irish Oaks should have been ride of the year in every poll and award that year. Just watch how he never picked up the stick and won by a neck.
A proud trainer with Shaamit
Could you sum up the role your wife Maureen plays in your team?
I think you’re better off asking people we’ve employed over the years. Her work ethic is indescribable, she never stops, is a monster on detail and does all the little things nobody wants to do. The staff know she’d do any job they do straight away if she needed to. She has a huge capacity for work, wants everything done as best we can do it and doesn’t look for glory. I said when we trained 1000 winners do you want to take the licence now and train 1000 winners too if we get that lucky? She said absolutely not.
Then last year when there was talk of the partnerships being formed I asked if she wanted a joint-licence and again she said absolutely not – ‘you’re in charge and I’m here to help’. She’s an amazing lady, still rides out three lots a day and never stops. She goes to bed quite early and I don’t blame her.
Maureen Haggas – plays key role
Do you still have your Sunday meetings?
We do. We sit down every Sunday and go through every horse. It’s quite difficult being a trainer’s wife because communication is crucial and there’s so much going on in my tiny little mind that I don’t tell everyone everything all the time. To be able to sit down in a bit of peace on Sunday morning and go through every horse is wonderful. I write down in pencil what we’re going to do with them the following week, it changes every day but we have so many going out every day I don’t have time to tell everyone what we’re doing with what. We write out a list the night before on what every horse is supposed to do, one canter, two canters etc and where they’re supposed to do it. My secretary types it out and everyone, assistants, Maureen, myself, have a copy and there’s one on the noticeboard by our riding out board, too. People go and see what they’re riding and what it’s doing. When they gather up for first time they’ll tell me what they’re doing and I sort it out from there. Like all these things it’s just finding a system which suits your team. I marvel when I go out to Kingsley House to watch the Johnstons work, they have a completely different system to us and it works perfectly well for them. It’s just what you’re used to and what you’re comfortable with.
Do you think we’ll appreciate days at Lord’s, the Derby, Ascot, even more after this?
I’ve been watching some of the replays on Racing TV and it’s very interesting to see everyone hugging each other and shaking hands. It seems strangely uncomfortable to watch now, it’s weird. Whether the world will ever be the same in every way after what has happened, I’m not so sure but a lot of things needed correction. The Stock Market needed correction, the yearling market needed correction and we’re going to get it. It may be in the years to come, as the Queen said, we’ll all be stronger and better for this. It’s hard to see that at the moment though.