Haggas sees the broader picture of world horseracing

As William Haggas mused over a myriad of racing matters at Sha Tin on Saturday morning it would have been impolite to interrupt him to press record on voice memos and turn a conversation into an interview. 

Rather it was better to listen to his views which were considered and thoughtful on a variety of subjects and reflected a broad, rather than myopic, outlook on the wider racing world. 

No notes were taken, no comments recorded and thus no quotes will follow but I trust he won’t mind my recollection of the conversation. 

He sees continued international competition and further expansion of the World Pool as vital to racing across the globe and especially in England where, of course, revenue and therefore prize-money is a greater issue than in many other jurisdictions. 

You might argue that focus is hardly surprising given his recent success in Australia with Dubai Honour and Protagonist, not to mention earlier wins in Sydney with Addeybb, Favorite Moon and Young Rascal; and the fact we are speaking in Hong Kong. 

However, it’s more that he sees fan engagement driven by familiarity with horses competing against each other in various countries which can drive the already huge turnover on the commingled world tote pool on designated meetings and thus increase the return to racing. 

Hopefully – he mused – that the number of meetings will increase, Japan will join the World Pool and that this Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas World Pool meeting at Newmarket will attract field sizes large enough to stimulate betting interest. 

He recalled that he wasn’t especially happy immediately after Verry Elleegant beat Addeybb in the 2021 Ranvet Stakes but soon after was content to think it was great for the sport in fuelling the anticipation for the return match in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes which, of course, Addeybb won by a half length. Likewise, this year it was Dubai Honour who added some spice to the Queen Elizabeth Stakes in which the betting would have been otherwise stifled by Anamoe. 

It was, of course, the since dubbed “Aussie Tom” Marquand who rode Addeybb (and indeed Dubai Honour) but it might be soon Haggas with a similar moniker given his plan, in conjunction with Andrew Balding, to set up a satellite stable in Sydney. 

And, good heavens, he asked me who’d won the Anzac Day Collingwood versus Essendon AFL match which he’d been watching but had not seen the last few minutes.

Haggas conceded that a younger Balding possibly has the greater enthusiasm for the Sydney project but said the planning is certainly going ahead. 

He spoke of the notion to breed one of his mares to southern hemisphere time to win a Derby in Australia, of the likelihood of returning to Sydney next autumn (possibly again with Dubai Honour) and a thought that this year might be the right year to take aim at the Cox Plate. 

Thus I doubt we’ve seen the last of Mr Haggas in Australia even if the stringent veterinary protocols which remain in place in Victoria are a stumbling block to Melbourne spring carnival competition. 

He may have said we (Victorians) have “dug our own grave” in that regard before calmly beseeching that Racing Victoria might further investigate easing the protocols which it announced, last month, would remain largely unchanged. 

Racing Victoria says it hopes better communication and a better flow of the protocols will encourage international visitors but the clubs might have to push harder for an easing of the demanded procedures with many trainers, including several from Japan, apprehensive to say the least. 

Haggas spoke of meeting Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys whom I think he described as a “very interesting fellow”; of spending time with Joseph O’Brien whom he said was a “very good thinker” and with Chris Waller whose attention to detail extended to already scanning some of his likely spring hopefuls (after his Caulfield Cup winner Durston was ruled out of last year’s Melbourne Cup). 

He spoke of sitting on the pattern committee which recently cut 11 stakes races which he conceded was an unusual stance for a trainer to support but felt it was necessary to channel horses to particular black type races in order to produce more competitive racing. 

Haggas, who did briefly work for Brian Mayfield-Smith in Sydney in 1980, happily engaged Annabel Neasham and Andrew Forsman in conversation as we headed back from Sha Tin on the Hong Kong Jockey Club bus.

He said he was just getting into buying and breeding from his own mares. “That’s bloody expensive,” he said, or words to that effect; or perhaps the expletive was stronger. 

He asks lots of questions and that, I’ve found over the years, is a common trait among great racehorse trainers and Haggas has a deserved reputation as a great trainer which has only been enhanced in recent years through his international enterprise, a best ever 2021 season at home and a stellar 2022 highlighted by the deeds of Baaeed. 

It was an entertaining morning. Yes, I could have kept it to myself but I had an obligation to write a column and Champions day at Sha Tin, the flight home Monday and the Warrnambool May races beginning Tuesday were going to have me too preoccupied to conjure up something else! Next time, I’ll have to see if I can talk him into coming to the ’Bool or indeed going to the (AFL) footy. 

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