The work goes on at racing yards while meetings are on hold
At present, it is all work and no possibility of that thrill that comes from their horses flashing past the winning post.
David O’Meara and Clive Mulhall operate from different ends of the horse racing spectrum. David has 150 horses in training at the 120-acre Willow Farm in Upper Helmsley near Stamford Bridge where he has been based since January 2016.
Clive has just six at Scarcroft Hall Farm in Scarcroft, Leeds, but they face the same problems in maintaining their horses, while as yet, having no definite date for when racing can start again.
David said they were 13 days out from the Lincoln meeting at Doncaster, the yard’s first main flat meeting of the season, when racing was called to a halt.
“We would have had around six horses ready for then, maybe more. April wasn’t going to be that hectic, but towards the end of April and about now we would have been very busy.
“We have 139 horses on the yard at present and we have eased back on those we were expecting to have ready during this time by about 10-15 per cent and one or two owners have taken their horses back home because there is, as yet, no specific date set for a return to racing.
“Sometimes you can incur as many problems by backing off and you don’t want to stop exercising. Fitness is all about the feed and work balance and it is that management you’re always trying to get right.
“I’ve got to applaud the good work that has been done by everyone here under the circumstances. We have furloughed five out of the team of 45 involved in the business and we have had a particularly good reaction from other riders. Our industry needs riders and we’re in the fortunate position where we have a fantastic, enthusiastic team.
“All of our horses have continued to be ridden out every day thanks to 21-22 riders and horses will also go on the treadmill. The horse walker is used to warm them all down afterwards. We are fortunate that our gallops are only a short walk from the stables, which means it is easier for the riders to get more horses ridden.
“During normal circumstances there is a digital screen in the tack room that shows which horses are to be ridden and who should be riding them, but we now give out all of that information through a Whatsapp group so that they don’t go into the tack room and tack is placed out in the yard. Everyone is using disinfectants, keeping the appropriate distance from each other and we’re not using the canteen, instead people are having lunch in their cars.”
It’s a quite different story over at Scarcroft Hall where Clive and his wife Marty have 52 acres.
“Marty and I do everything here, so we haven’t had to furlough anyone.
“We also operate as an equestrian centre and livery yard for 25-30 horses and without a doubt that business is very helpful at the moment.
“Our racehorses never miss a day riding out. They have a canter on the gallops, we also have them in the horsewalker and as we have our own indoor school they can do a bit of lunging too. They get fit on our own gallops but normally I’d also take them out to others as well which we haven’t been able to do.
“We would have had maybe one or two ready for racing in early April, but even if racing was to start again in early June there’s nothing for me at that time looking at the proposed calendar. As such I don’t want to get them all revved up with nowhere to go.”
Clive said the management of racehorses is very important and you don’t want to reach a situation where they are over-hyped.
“We have a really nice bunch of owners and we keep in regular contact, sending videos and giving updates on their progress.
“But chasing new owners is the name of the game and I should imagine that may be more difficult in the short term as disposable income is taking a hit for everyone.
“Like everyone else we’re hoping to be back soon, but in the meantime I’m also spending a bit more time on maintenance of our fields and gallops, fixing doors and gates. Every job is important.”
David and Clive knew each other as jockeys and are good friends.
Clive’s daughter, Charlotte, is currently at David’s stables having completed her racing qualifications at Newmarket and currently riding on an amateur licence.
While there is no fixed date for a return to the track in the UK, horse racing has resumed in Europe with Germany leading the way last week and France following suit this week.
It is the second most popular spectator sport in the UK.