There may be no horseboxes heading to Doncaster for the start of the Flat season on Saturday – but leading trainer Richard Hannon has continued to remain positive during the biggest crisis racing has potentially faced.
With racing in Britain currently suspended until the end of April at the earliest amid the coronavirus pandemic, trainers are having to rethink plans, while trying to maintain their well-being of their horses.
Much of the workforce in other sectors across the country have been encouraged to work at home to help slow the spread of the virus, but with horses still requiring daily attention this is not applicable to stable staff – and Hannon is only too thankful for the support he has received from his team.
He said: “When you have been waiting for the Flat season to start it is a strange thing for it not to happen, and hopefully this never happens again. It is frightening how quick this has come about
“Our lads have behaved impeccably. If you can think of something positive coming out of this then the way the lads have pulled together is really good news.
“They have turned up and they have got on with things, as they understand that their job is to look after the horses – they could have easily been taking time out.
“We are doing this while obeying the two-metre (social distancing) rule which although is quite strange, still allows them to talk between each other.”
While Hannon may be in a better position than some of his counterparts, he would like to see the British Horseracing Authority give an indication as to when racing will resume.
He said: “I think it would be nice if the BHA made an announcement, to give owners something to look forward to and trainers something to work towards in order for relationships not to become strained.
“If the government say we can’t race then we can’t, but if they don’t it would be good from the BHA to say we are looking to race at a certain point, even if it wasn’t a promise, as we can all have a goal to work to.
“We just need a bit of reassurance for owners to stay involved and it would give us some light at the end of the tunnel.
“At times it is very difficult to for trainers to tell owners to keep their horses in training when we don’t know when they will run. We need a goal, even if it is racing behind closed doors.”
Although key trials for the Qipco 2000 and 1000 Guineas have fallen victim to racing being halted, Hannon reports his Classic contenders to remain on course for a trip to Newmarket, whenever that may be.
He said: “Sky Lantern and Billesdon Brook were beaten in their 1000 Guineas wins had trials and so was Night Of Thunder before his 2000 Guineas win – most need them, but that is out of the window now.
“As we haven’t had a really bad winter they’ve not really missed a day. Threat looks great and I couldn’t be more pleased with him. I think Al Madhar, who won a Newmarket maiden, is a nice horse and he could go straight there.
“We have a few for the 1000 Guineas, but Cloak Of Spirits would be the main one. Something was up with her at Doncaster as she seemed to enjoy the undulations at Newmarket the last day. She doesn’t need as much work as some, but she looks good in herself.”
Hannon is one of the few to benefit from the 2019/20 National Hunt season being cut short, with a number of jump jockeys, including Grade One-winning riders Tom Scudamore and Tom O’Brien, swapping codes temporarily.
He explained: “The jump lads have been a great help. They have been ringing in their droves to come in.
“We have had Tom Scudamore, Tom O’Brien, Kieron Edgar, Zac Baker and Kevin Jones in. This has never happened before as usually they would still be racing.
“The other lads have enjoyed them being here and I think they’ve enjoyed going a bit faster on Flat horses. They have all been a cracking help – there is a good atmosphere about the place and they are welcome back any time.”
Oisin Murphy is likely to prove difficult to beat in retaining his champion jockey crown, but Hannon believes Tom Marquand – who recently celebrated his first Group One winner aboard the William Haggas-trained Addeybb in Australia on Saturday – has the makings of being a leading contender for this year’s title.
He said: “That was great seeing Tom win out there and he has found a real niche. It is going well for him, at home and worldwide.
“He did his apprenticeship here and he has done very well for himself. The hardest thing this season could be getting hold off him, though he rides out every day here when he can.
“He could be champion jockey as it is all about the numbers and he will go anywhere for winners. There are a lot of good up and coming jockeys around, but his tally and stock just keeps going up.”