This would normally be the start of a very busy few months for Richard Hannon, whose two big stables near Salisbury Plain are home to lots of fast, precocious young horses. The months of April, May and June are hay-making time for trainers with that kind of stock, so the suspension of racing until at least the end of next month makes things very difficult for his operation.
“It’s hugely worrying,” says Hannon, who was champion trainer in his first season, 2014, with a licence. “These two-year-olds, you only have a certain window of opportunity. And then you’ve got the Classic generation.” But he notes the timing could have been even worse, if the coronavirus had sent Britain into lockdown in the autumn, after Hannon had spent hefty sums buying horses at the sales and before he had sold them on to various owners.
“We’re lucky this didn’t come along in October, November, when I would have had about 50 yearlings around my neck. We sold them all but we need to get back racing, if we can.”
Hannon has an idea of how it could be managed, if and when the sport is allowed to resume racing behind closed doors. He suggests a lot of action compressed into each day, rotating between the all-weather courses from one day to the next.
“You could have 20 races a day, 15 minutes between each race. Jockeys could only ride in every other race. From 9am to 5pm and we can get through the backlog, maybe. The prize money’s there, it’s been allocated. They can keep the jockeys apart by giving them the grandstand. There could be five metres between them, other than when they’re in the stalls. And you wouldn’t need five different tracks each day, using five different ambulances.
“It’s just an idea, I don’t know if it would work. The Flat trainers, we’ve got our horses ready now and with this nice weather, they come right in their coats they look great. I’m training mine as if we start early next month.”
Hannon, his family and staff have remained healthy but he is acutely aware that others have been less fortunate. “The NHS staff are doing a fabulous job in really difficult circumstances. We all owe them a great debt of gratitude.”
He plans to show that by donating £25 to the NHS for each winner he trains this year, which ought to yield a sum running into several thousand pounds.
In the meantime there is hope, which has always been central to racing’s appeal and which Hannon believes can be a source of comfort to his owners.
“I’m sure a lot of them will have had investments in the stock market and other things that obviously won’t have gone well. But the great thing about a lot of our horses is that you don’t know what they are, what they could be. People who own unraced two-year-olds have always got hope for the future. You could own that good one. That’s why two-year-olds are so exciting and why there’s always a market for them.”
Aside from the horses, Hannon has his family to help keep his own spirits up. “I’ve got two young kids and the weather’s nice, so you can go outside and spend a bit of time with them. It’s OK now but I should imagine after a few weeks there’s going to be some awful cabin fever.
“We’re very lucky, we live in a lovely place in the country and we have some space, we work with lovely animals. It makes us a lot better off than most people at this time. We don’t have anything to moan about, that way. There’s a lot of people living in cities who have it a lot harder than we do.”
While he was at school, Hannon had no thought other than one day taking over his father’s racing stable; will he now be getting involved in the home-schooling of his children? “I don’t think they’d pass many exams if I was home-schooling them,” he says, laughing. “But we have a bit of a laugh with them and they’re reading plenty of books.
“They’re not allowed to see Granny and Grandad, even though they live 100 yards down the road and always have a drawer full of sweets. At the moment, the sweets are being passed through letterboxes and through the window sometimes.”