An email conversation with racing trainer William Haggas
'At the start you think you know it all, but really you're lost for years'
Monday 28 July 2008
What is so good about Goodwood, which starts tomorrow? In most ways "glorious" is the right word, it's part of what makes British racing unique. All our top courses are so different – Newmarket, Chester, York, Ascot, Goodwood – in their demands and the spectacle they give and Goodwood's setting is magnificent, the standard of racing is high and the prize-money is fantastic. But in another way jockeys and trainers hate it. It has difficult bends and cambers and if you get a clear run in a big field it's a miracle.
What's so good about racing? There are more trainers than ever, more horses than ever, more fixtures than ever. We have Sheikh Mohammed and the other Maktoums here, which is particularly good for those of us who have their horses, but for everyone else too – they've invested in the industry, raised standards and everything trickles down. Looking in from the outside, it doesn't seem like an industry in crisis. But we insiders think it is, and it's up to us to keep banging the drum.
You took part in a boycott over prize-money at Yarmouth recently. Is that what you mean? We have to vote with our feet if we think things are wrong. If you don't think that running for £1,900 is acceptable, then don't enter; that's the only way to get change. I hope we in the trainers' federation can come up with constructive ideas. The mindset in the industry is more modern nowadays – it's not the old Jockey Club any more, automatically saying, "Can't'"
Has violence at meetings this year presented an image problem? The tracks make money from their post-racing pop concerts – at Newmarket the Friday nights help fund the year – and if you get 20,000 people and alcohol together you are going to get fights. Sadly, it's the culture we live in.
With the perceived difficulties facing the sport, why would anyone want to get involved professionally? Horses are more a way of life than anything else. You live the dream, even if it is a fantasy. The next yearling that walks in the yard might just be the one to catapult your career. I was lucky because my first winner came at a high-profile meeting. At the start you think you know everything, but really you're lost for years.
How did you begin life in racing? When I left school at 18 the old man, who had a textile factory, said that if I didn't have a job by 1 September I'd be working for him. Of course I gave it no further heed until 31 August and then thought, "Oh shit", and trudged off to clock on. On my first day off, three months later, I drove from Yorkshire to Newmarket and begged Jeremy Hindley, who trained a horse for my father, to give me a job. I said I'd muck out, mow the lawn, clean his car, anything rather than go back to the mill. And I'm still here.
What has been your best moment? It must be when we won the Derby with Shaamit. I had only 40 horses then and it was a tremendous feat for a small stable. But at that stage I had no real idea just how difficult it was. I've got many more horses now and haven't had a Derby runner since. We had another two decent horses that year, too, but the following season I had just 12 winners and all the new best friends we'd made disappeared.
Has your relationship to Lester Piggott been a blessing? Very much so. His knowledge has been invaluable and every time I go racing someone asks me how he is. But I don't think I'll ever get to the dizzy heights of instead of me being his son-in-law, he's referred to as William Haggas's father-in-law.
If not racing, what else? I adore cricket and if I have a day off I just love to go to a Test match. I'm very spoilt really; when I was at school I played some games for the MCC, and my membership is vital to me. Test cricket will always survive, even though the one-day game has changed the way it has played. The days of a Boycott grinding out 100 in a day and a half have gone. A shorter, low-scoring match can be just as fascinating, though. Like the Open golf at Birkdale was, where instead of being 15 under par they were shooting triple-bogeys.
Football? I used to go and watch Cambridge United until I had a run-in with the chairman. I always look out for results at Burnley, the local team where I grew up. A friend has a box at Arsenal and the Emirates is sensational. I know at the time we thought these modern, all-seater stadiums would be the end of life as we know it but they've helped clean up the yob culture. Off the pitch, anyway.
Lack of sportsmanship gets to me, and disrespect for referees and umpires. I mean, how many times does a referee in the penalty box surrounded by 11 players shouting in his face say, "Quite right, lads, I've made a mistake, it's a free-kick the other way"? When I was at Harrow, David Ellery was a junior master and he was the best referee because he had discipline and didn't take shit from anyone. And take the [England cricket captain] Paul Collingwood scenario [when he refused to call back New Zealand batsman Grant Elliott after running him out even though he had collided with bowler Ryan Sidebottom] – he's the luckiest man in sport that New Zealand won [that one-day match], otherwise he'd have been castigated for ever. Daniel Vettori [the New Zealand captain] was quite right to say that the spirit of cricket should not be allowed to deteriorate.
Back to Goodwood. What are your chances this week? We've been going really well but for us it's maybe a thinner week than usual. I think I've probably fired a lot of bullets at other meetings – we had a double with Aqlaam and Collection at Royal Ascot – and a stable our size doesn't have the wealth of horses to produce another 10 for Goodwood. I think our best hope is Alfathaa in the mile Listed race on Saturday.
*Born 23 August 1960, Skipton, North Yorkshire.
*Married 4 March 1989 to Maureen. Two children, Mary-Anne and Sam.
*First trainer's licence 20 November 1986. Previously two years as assistant to Sir Mark Prescott and four years to John Winter.
*Trains at Somerville Lodge, Newmarket.
*First winner Tricky Note, 15 April 1987, Newmarket.
*Best horses Shaamit (Derby), Chorist (Pretty Polly Stakes, Blandford Stakes), Bog Trotter (Champagne Stakes, Greenham Stakes), Yeast (Royal Hunt Cup, Victoria Cup), High Low (Lincoln Handicap), Superstar Leo (Norfolk Stakes, Super Sprint, Flying Childers Stakes, 2nd in Prix de l'Abbaye), Majestic Missile (Molecomb Stakes, Cornwallis Stakes), Count Dubois (Gran Criterium), Brunel (Free Handicap, German 2,000 Guineas, Topkapi Trophy), Dupont (German 2,000 Guineas, Italian 2,000 Guineas), Suggestive (Criterion Stakes), Very Wise (Lincoln Handicap), Enticing (Molecomb Stakes), Monte Etoile (Ribblesdale Stakes), Conquest (Gimcrack Stakes), Aqlaam (Jersey Stakes), Jargelle (Super Sprint), Collection (Hampton Court Stakes).
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