Horses from around Britain must be allowed to compete when racing eventually returns to Newmarket, the trainer William Haggas has said. Haggas, delighted to have won two Group Ones in Australia in the past month, has been turning his mind to how racing in this country may resume behind closed doors and is firmly against suggestions that trainers might be restricted to running at their local racing ‘hub’.
“I think Newmarket is an obvious place to resume racing,” Haggas said, “and I think most people agree, because we have a lot of horses here, we have two racecourses, the Rowley Mile in particular is well known as about the bleakest racecourse in the country and there’s plenty of opportunity to social distance there. I think it’s very workable and I’m sure it will happen.
“But what I am vehemently opposed to is racing for Newmarket horses only. I think that’s nonsense. If you’re going to race in Newmarket, do it for everyone. We’re not going to start until the lockdown relaxes and if the lockdown relaxes, there is no problem transporting horses round the country. It would be a nonsense to have Newmarket races only for Newmarket trainers. We’re not that desperate. We can’t encourage that, that is not the right way forward.”
The government is expected to announce an extension to the lockdown this week, with periods of three weeks or six being mooted. Once it is over, Haggas said Britain should be looking to copy the examples set by racing in Australia, Hong Kong and Japan, where the sport has continued without spectators and subject to strict social distancing measures. The Newmarket man was among those to benefit on Saturday when Addeybb won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at a racecourse in Sydney.
“They have proved that it can keep going in a guarded fashion, safely. We only have to copy those models, surely,” Haggas said. “Provided we can do it with no detrimental side effects to the National Health Service, the emergency services and ultimately government, then let’s get on with it.”
Whenever Flat racing does resume, Haggas predicts one of the biggest difficulties for officials will be deciding which horses are allowed to run, with each race certain to be oversubscribed. “The first three weeks are going to be chaos. There’ll be six or seven races a day, maximum fields of maybe 12 because I can’t see them having big fields, and probably 800 entries in every meeting because everyone’s ready to go.”
In the meantime, his team at Somerville Lodge is doing “everything we can” to protect the health of its staff. “The horses go out in pairs rather than a large string. It just takes a bit more organising but it’s very doable. We try to keep people apart as best they can. It’s not straightforward but they can’t do this work from home, so they’re here and we do it as quickly and responsibly as possible.”