'Yeast was a real stable stalwart and we all thought the world of him'
William Haggas reveals all is a question-and-answer session
First published on Tuesday, August 19, 2014
You have an uncanny knack of finding the right race for your horses, particularly your handicappers. Is there one particular race which still gives you pleasure to reflect on because everything came together on the day? John Boyle
If Maureen could sum me up in one word – one word as regards training, I hasten to add – it would be 'patient'. I will wait for a month if necessary to find the right race for a horse, it's the Yorkshire in me but I follow the doctrine 'if in doubt, do nowt', and when it comes to bigger races I'm happy to sit and wait until the right one comes along. One race that springs to mind when it didn't come together was when I plotted up Mukhadram for the Cambridgeshire and, much to my amazement, he was only fifth, a future Group 1 winner beaten in a handicap. Sometimes the plan just doesn't come off.
What is the best bit of advice your father-in-law Lester Piggott has given you? C Ross
Lester has always been extremely helpful in lots and lots of ways. One occasion I remember very well was when Mont Etoile won the Ribblesdale Stakes – he was insistent with Michael Hills that he should never leave the inside rail, that he should go the shortest way, ride her for luck. Michael followed his instructions, a gap appeared on the rail in the closing stages and they won by a neck.
How highly do you rate Muthmir? Do you believe he is still well handicapped, or is he a Group horse in the making? Mike Wilding
I rate him very highly, and I hope he'll be a Group horse in time. He's young and still inexperienced and I think he may well be better at 5f . . . my main target this year is to convince his owner to keep him in training next season.
Of your unraced two-year-olds, which one are you most looking forward to sending out before the season ends? Kai Berry
There are two – I'll say Muffri'Ha, a daughter of Iffraaj out of Grecian Dancer, while my wife Maureen is very keen on Foreign Diplomat (Oasis Dream-Longing To Dance), who makes his debut in the Convivial Stakes at York on Friday.
How difficult is it to sustain a level of improvement like you have the last five years? With so many horses running well this time round, it will make next year tougher. How do you prepare for that? Carl Torr
This is a very good question. There is a marked difference between a genuine stakes horse and a good handicapper, so at the end of each season it can be a hard job to choose which ones to keep and which to sell, and a lot depends on the owner, whether they want to persevere or to sell and roll the dice again. This year I have around 25 older horses, which is a good core number, but obviously some of them – and Harris Tweed is a good example – can lose their form, and then it's a question of do we see whether he can retrieve the situation next season?. I have around 100 two-year-olds – I've never had that many before – and I'll need to trim that number down so I have 60-70 three-year-olds next season.
They can't all be good, unfortunately, and it's a constant cycle of renewal to make sure we keep the right ones and let the rest go. I bought a nearby yard – Flint Cottage – last spring and that will give me scope to keep numbers high.
Were you as surprised as I was when Shaamit won the Derby? Joking aside, how difficult was it to bring the colt to Epsom on his first outing of the season? Paul McDougal
I wasn't surprised at all. He should have run in the Dante, but he got a dose of ringworm that meant we had to miss the trials. He'd been working very well on the Limekilns all spring with the likes of Dushyantor and Glory Of Dancer – that's one of the great things about Newmarket, there's always someone who will help you, because I had only 40 horses then and didn't have much to work with him – and I thought he was pretty useful. I was concerned about his lack of experience, but when he walked into the parade ring at Epsom he seemed visibly to grow an inch, took it all in his stride, won best-turned-out, and the rest is history.
If you could turn the clock back and train one of your horses again to win the 'right' sort of race, which horse would it be – and what mistakes did you make the first time? Martin Whittaker
I regret running Shaamit in the King George. He was very sore after the Derby and was only just getting his confidence back at King George time, wasn't moving as well as he could, and I suppose I got rather bullied into going to Ascot. If I had to make that decision now he would definitely not go for the King George.
How concerned are you about the development plans for Newmarket and do you think they will affect the town as a training centre? Mick Henslow
I'm very concerned. My overriding feeling is that all the people who have racing property have it only for a certain time, and it's our duty to ensure Newmarket is in safe hands so the coming generations can take up the baton and prosper. Newmarket is a horse town, famous around the world, and if there weren't any horses here there'd be nothing very much. We have to safeguard the town's heritage, and Rachel Hood and Jacko Fanshawe have done a sterling job to stave off the Hatchfield development, and it serves as a warning shot to anyone else who may come along.
Do you have favourite sires? If so, who and why? Amanda Reams
I'd love a yard full of Galileos, but it's nearly impossible to get your hands on them. I was a fan of Sea The Stars before this season – we have three of his three-year-olds and I like them all – but I'd have to say Dubawi, all-round, is the best sire. He can get anything – fast horses, middle-distance horses, sharp ones, steady-maturing ones – and they all seem to be tough and genuine.
Will you be tempted to open your stable on a Newmarket open day, as you have not opened in the past? Paul Bailey
I think Newmarket is too big for one open day – I think it should have four open days that coincide with a race meeting in the afternoon, so visitors can do the Bury Road one day, the Fordham Road another, the Hamilton Road the next time and so on. I don't agree with just one open day, so I don't participate, for which I get a lot of ribbing from my fellow trainers. Next time I'll canter a few horses up Warren Hill for people to see, but I won't be opening the yard.
This time next year we will have six all-weather courses. Do you think that is too many, or about the right number? Colin Bone
It's too many, and things are only going to go one way in this respect. What's happening at Newcastle – a proper, galloping turf track – is a travesty, and before long the jumps track there will go too, I'm sure. The Arena Racing Company simply puts on racing to optimise its finances, whatever it says to the contrary about the good of racing. I wouldn't be surprised to see Bath disappear, either. To tear up a perfectly good turf course and put down an all-weather surface is completely the wrong way to approach the issue.
Sir Mark Prescott is on record as having to 'sort you out' when you were his pupil/assistant and a bit of a boyo! What are your (printable) recollections of that time when you were just starting out? Del Appleton
I was at Heath House for a couple of years at the beginning of the 1980s – I was young and I believed I had the ability to party every evening and still get the work done in the morning and afternoon, but the trouble was I wasn't quite as skilful at pulling that off as I thought. Sir Mark was quite a volatile character in those days, but he's changed a lot, has become a lot more mellow, and there's no animosity between us about what happened all those years ago.
Being a Yorkshireman born and bred, how important is it to you to win a race at the Ebor festival, and do you always try to aim a horse at a particular race such as the Ebor or Melrose? Martin Whittaker
I'm very proud of being a Yorkshireman but it's important to do well at every big festival meeting, although it's particularly nice to have a good week at York. The course has upped its game this year – every race with a minimum value of £40,000, which is fantastic – and I do try to sort a few out for the bigger races if possible. It's always my birthday during York week too, which adds to the pleasure I get from the meeting.
I often read that when a horse wins first time out after, say 600-plus days off, it's regarded as a good training feat. Is it more difficult to get a horse ready to win after 600 days than it is to win after four or five months off? James Bradley
It's actually probably easier to bring a horse back after 18 months off than it is after four or five months off, because they're fresh and you can train them normally if they've recovered from whatever laid them off in the first place. Four or five months is more of a grey area – this question is probably more applicable to jumpers because if one of mine needed 600 days off he'd be out of the yard.
If you were England cricket coach, would Kevin Pietersen still be in your team? Roger Hickman
No. As talented as he undoubtedly is, he doesn't play for the team. Cricket is a team game and not about one particular individual, however good he may be. Having said that, I wouldn't want to be England cricket coach – like a clerk of the course, it's a difficult job.
During your career, which horse's rate of improvement has surprised you the most? Ralph Cunningham
One that's fresh in the mind is Cara Gina last year. She had shown very little, and then won three in a row at Bath – I was gobsmacked at her ability to win and to keep on winning. She started on a mark of 45 and after her hat-trick she was placed off 72. Horses can do that, they can surprise you when they're on a roll, they can almost outperform themselves in a purple patch. I thought what she did was extraordinary.
When a jockey is 1lb overweight everyone is told. What about horses being many kilograms over their ideal racing weight? Is there a case for this to be made known? Malcolm George
I don't think so – I weigh our horses religiously and there is no great pattern to the results. Sometimes they win when they're a bit heavier, sometimes they win when they're a bit lighter, they're not like greyhounds because they're so much heavier and slight variations aren't so important. The only horse I can recall who did have a pattern was Yeast – when he was 543kg he always won.
Why do you run your horses with bandaged hind legs? Geir Stabell
I nearly always do this on the all-weather, but only occasionally on turf. It's not a bandage but Vet Wrap, and it's just to provide greater protection from run-downs.
Squats is one of my favourite two-year-olds, a really honest horse. Do you think he can take the step up to Pattern level successfully? Jake McCarthy
I like him too – he won very well at Haydock and will probably take his chance in the Roses Stakes at York on Saturday. He's rated 89 and I think he's quite good, so I'll try him in the better grade over 5f and see he goes.
My favourite horse Sun Central was being talked of as a Melbourne Cup horse last year but has not been seen out for a long time. Is there any news on him, or Stencive, another long-term absentee? Mike Gardner
Sun Central has been retired. He had a tendon injury and we drew stumps with him, so he's gone to stud and stands in Lincolnshire. Stencive is still around – he picked up a suspensory injury and that was it for the season, but it's possible we might get him back for next year.
Your family has been associated with many good jumpers. Was there a time when you wished to be a jumps trainer rather than concentrating on the Flat? Trevor Steel
I've never wanted to train jumpers. I've had my one winner over jumps - Fen Terrier in a novice hurdle at Fakenham in 1995 – and that will do for me. I love watching jump racing but I don't want to train jumpers.
Which has been your favourite – not your best – horse to train, and why? Sara Odell
One of my all-time favourites is Yeast, our first Royal Ascot winner when he won the Hunt Cup in 1996. He started that season by winning a maiden at Newcastle, then next time out won the Victoria Cup, then two runs later we were in the winner's enclosure at Royal Ascot. He was a marvellous horse, and worth his weight in gold at home too, because he was so valuable as a gallops horse, went out there twice a week every week, full of enthusiasm. He led Shaamit in his work, he led another good horse called Missile, he was thoroughly genuine and anyone could ride him. He was a real stable stalwart and we all thought the world of him.
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