Uncertainty is worst part for Middleham trainers

Burke and Hammond in agreement over coronavirus worries.

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Middleham trainers Karl Burke and Micky Hammond agree it is the uncertainty caused in racing by the coronavirus pandemic which is the hardest facet to comprehend.

While Hammond is a dual-purpose handler with only a small string of Flat horses to care for, Burke looks after one of the biggest Flat yards in the north and has been left in limbo.

Just when he should be looking forward to unleashing his new team of juveniles, Burke’s season has been put on hold at the worst possible time.

“We’re following all the protocols at the minute, and it’s working well,” said Burke.

“About 95 per cent of staff have been in full time – we’ve had a couple with coughs that have self-isolated.

“You’ve still got to exercise the horses – you can’t just leave them. It’s a dreadful time of year for it to happen, and it’s very frustrating.

“Like most trainers, selfishly we’re thinking what we’re missing. But everybody is in the same boat – it’s not as if Middleham is closed down and everywhere else is open or vice versa – (so) you’ve just got to get on with it.

“Hopefully there’s some improvement in the next couple of weeks and there’s a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Whether that be May 1 or June 1, we’d just like a date to aim to.

“Race planning for the Flat season must be a nightmare. The latest race calendar has come through, and the first day on that was May 1, so I suppose at the moment they are gearing up for that.

“The next two weeks are going to be vitally important, not from a racing perspective but the whole country.”

Burke was hoping to run the promising Lord Of The Lodge in a Guineas trial before a crack at the Classic – but when, or even if, that will be held is now up in the air.

He added: “For the last 10 days, we haven’t galloped any horses, but they’ve all cantered – and that is why we need some sort of clarity. If we are going to be racing in May, they need to be working from next week onwards.

“Lord Of The Lodge is in great form, as are the rest of the string, but I’m trying not to think about what we are missing out on.

“If we can get them in good form and keep them healthy, we’ll be in a good position whenever we do get to go.

“I’m nearly 57 now and I’ve always been told whenever the sun shone at this time of year that would be the viruses gone. Apparently, not this one.”

Hammond, who celebrated his first Grade One success this season when Cornerstone Lad won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, feels for those like Burke – who have had their season brought to a halt before it even began.

“I think we’re just ticking over up here,” he said.

“We’re in the process of finishing nearly all of our jumpers – most of them have had a good season.

“We will have the odd summer jumper and some Flat horses to keep going. We’ve only got about a dozen for the Flat.

“You feel for the Flat lads, you really do. Nobody knows what is going to happen moving forward, we really don’t. We’ve just got to see what happens up and down the country, and see how bad this gets.

“It seems strange we were at Cheltenham two weeks ago, and in the meantime I’ve actually been to Koh Samui and back. We got back Tuesday and by Wednesday they barred all flights in and out I believe.

“The social distancing in our yard is working well. The staff are listening to the advice being given – and let’s face it, no one wants to catch this virus, do they?

“I haven’t heard of any cases up in Middleham – there’s plenty of good, fresh air in Yorkshire.”

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