Charlie Fellowes has admitted to being frustrated by the timing of the cancellation of Saturday’s Dubai World Cup meeting.
The Newmarket-based trainer had been looking forward to saddling his globe-trotting stable star Prince Of Arran in the Dubai Gold Cup on the undercard at Meydan, following his fine effort to finish third in Saudi Arabia last month.
However, it was announced on Sunday the fixture would not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was a bit of a shock. Obviously we’ve been keeping a very close eye on what’s going on, not just in England but globally,” Fellowes told Sky Sports Racing.
“Dubai has been the plan for a long time. We’ve been speaking to the DRC (Dubai Racing Club) and getting assurances from them that everything was going ahead.
“All the way along we’ve never had any inkling that it might get cancelled. There was a brief moment of panic last week when they closed the borders to Dubai, but the line was that racing was still going to go ahead.”
While sympathetic to the organisers of the high-profile event, Fellowes found himself in a difficult situation, with both Prince Of Arran and his groom having already made the trip to the UAE.
He added: “We managed to get Prince Of Arran and his groom out there and everything seemed fine – and then out of the blue we were told yesterday (Sunday) that it was cancelled.
“I don’t have a problem with them cancelling it at all – they’ve got to do what’s right for Dubai and the people of Dubai. It’s a completely understandable decision.
“But what I felt was frustrating was that yesterday afternoon I get a panic call from the lass who went out with the horse saying, ‘there are no flights back to England, I’m going to get stuck out here for a couple of months, what on earth am I going to do?’.
“That’s on my head – it was my decision to send her over there, after taking advice from other people, and I felt very, very guilty. There was a moment where I thought she was going to get stranded out there without family, without loved ones and without friends.
“As it happens, I’ve managed to get her on a flight from Abu Dhabi and she’s now on her way home, which was my number one concern.
“I believe Prince Of Arran is coming home tomorrow morning. Luckily it’s all been resolved and it looks like both horse and rider are on their way home, which is great news.”
Prince Of Arran’s appearances on British soil have been few and far between, but that could change this summer, with Fellowes keen on a tilt at the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, in which he finished eighth in 2017.
His main priority, however, is a third bid for Melbourne Cup glory at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November.
“I’d sort of had a possible plan of going to the Gold Cup again. He ran extremely well in the race three years ago – he travelled as well as anything and possibly didn’t quite get home,” said the trainer.
“It’s one of the few courses in England that he likes. He’s quite a bit older now and he might just stay two and a half, so we’ll look at the Gold Cup at Ascot if it goes ahead, and then all roads will again lead to Melbourne.
“He was second last year and third the year before, so surely we’re going to win it this year!”
Like trainers across Britain, Fellowes is facing up to the prospect of several weeks without any racing following the British Horseracing Authority’s decision to suspend the sport until the end of April.
While some trainers have been vocal in their criticism of the ruling body, especially with racing continuing to take place in Ireland behind closed doors, Fellowes takes a different view.
He said: “I stand in the camp where I thank the Lord that I didn’t have to make any of these decisions. I feel incredibly sorry for the people that did, because it’s one of those situations where no matter what decision you make, you’re going to get criticised.
“I thought the NTF (National Trainers Federation) statement was very good. They were very much along the lines of ‘what if’ – what if one person dies because an ambulance or a medic was held up at a race meeting, how would racing deal with that negative publicity?
“It would be incredibly unlikely to happen, but are we strong enough to survive that – and do we need that hindering the popularity of our sport?
“I don’t think we are in a position of strength like football or rugby – there can often be negative publicity surrounding horse racing that can be incredibly damaging.”