Acrimony – but now trainer triumphs at races

Clash between football agent and ex-model settled at last – and her new yard is huge success

Paul Whitehouse

and Lucy Harvey

IN the notoriously fickle world of horse racing few people are surprised when apparently promising business relationships are soured by personal disputes.

So it should have been predictable that a high-profile combination of a former glamour model and one of football's big names would eventually hit the rocks.

But it would have been difficult to guess at how dramatically the business relationship between Vicky Haigh, 36, who left the catwalk for a successful career training racehorses, and football agent Willie McKay would break down.

Until last year Mrs Haigh had lived with her husband and daughter Romany at Mr McKay's Merton Grange stables in Bawtry, South Yorkshire, where she developed a reputation for producing winners.

Both parties have declined to speak in detail about acrimony between them, which involved an allegation that Mrs Haigh was evicted from the home she occupied at Merton Grange.

But it reached such a level that she started civil proceedings to have an injunction imposed against Mr McKay in November last year.

Those proceedings rolled on through several hearings and became so complex they were transferred from Doncaster County Court to Sheffield, where more highly experienced judges are available to deal with complicated issues.

The situation was settled out of court, however, just hours before the start of a hearing in front of a judge, scheduled from yesterday to last for three days.

Following the settlement, Mrs Haigh would only

officially say: "I do not wish to comment in any way and

I have nothing further to add."

But she also told the Yorkshire Post: "The word unpleasantness is an understatement. I am not on any more medication now and my doctor doesn't have to see me."

Mr McKay, who represents stars including Manchester City player Joey Barton, is based in Monaco and his solicitors did not respond to a request for a comment.

However bitter the dispute, it has launched a dramatic turnaround in Mrs Haigh's fortunes which has seen her assemble a new string of 22 horses in the space of only 12 months at a new stables bankrolled by coal mining magnate Richard Budge. The development underlines her belief that personal ability will always win through, despite adverse circumstances.

She approached him with an idea to put stables at Wiseton Hall, which had been a racing yard in the 1950s and 1960s, back into use.

Despite the workload of controlling his coalmining business he accepted her plans and in September last year she acquired two yearlings and started the hard work of establishing a reputation for the new yard.

A year later and she is able to look back on successes at Epsom, Sandown and Goodwood, with winners including one horse bought for two thousand guineas which went on to take an 8,500 prize in its first race.

Next year she expects to do better still and the yard itself is also in line for major investment which should see the creation of a new barn, equine pool and other facilities – only a few miles from Merton Grange.

"I am in a very powerful position here. We have just had a billionaire fly in, in his helicopter, to look at the horses and I am planning a major campaign for next year. I am young enough to get there," she said.

"There have not been horses at this place for years and Mr Budge says it is nice to drive past and see them in the paddock.

"He is often asked how he found me, but he tells people that I found him. This yard was empty and had been on the market a few years ago. I approached him and asked how he fancied having racing horses here.

"Although he is very busy he agreed. It is often the busy people who seem to get more done. It is an ideal place for me because I didn't fancy working in a training centre.

"I knew this place existed but didn't know Mr Budge. He is over the moon, because the place is alive," she said.