Jack Milner: Trainer Brett Webber hopes their self-imposed lockdown at the Vaal will allow racing to return by 18 April.
While the lockdown has been tough on most people in racing, for some of the smaller trainers it has been excruciating.
They have had to keep their operations going, which includes feeding and training their horses. Most of them rely on small owners who need their horses to run in order to pay their monthly bills to those trainers.
However, according to Webber, trainers at the Vaal, in general, remain optimistic. “Most of us have kept our grooms on and we’re running our stables with the expectation racing will return on 18 April.
“If the lockdown is extended, my hope is we will be racing by the beginning of May, even if it is behind closed doors again.”
He added that trainers at the Vaal had enforced their own lockdown. “We’ve quarantined the Vaal completely. The grooms were given an option and those who left have stayed out. The balance have remained at the Vaal. I’ve kept all my grooms.
“As trainers, we are not even visiting one another. We have enforced social distancing and have isolated ourselves completely.
“In fact, we could race alone at the Vaal as we did during the African Horse Sickness epidemic.”
Webber had a double at Turffontein at the penultimate Highveld meeting before the lockdown, winning with 11-10 favourite Pucker Up and 16-1 shot Kapama. “That was very fortunate because it would have been tough to keep going without those wins.
“I thought Pucker Up was a certainty, and in my eyes, I couldn’t see Kapama losing either.
“I’ve got some very nice owners right now and most of them will be able to pay for April but there could be an issue if the lockdown continues into May.”
During the last 12 days Webber says he has continued to work horses he believes will be ready to run by 18 April and has backed off those who need a breather. “My yard was coming into good form and the lockdown could not have come at worse time. However, if they do run later this month, I hope to nominated my full yard,” he quipped.
“There are loads of fillies’ races and I could nominate them all.”
Go back a few years and Webber was one of the promising young trainers. He trained for some leading owners but when they moved on at the same time, it was a blow to Webber. He also had some personal issues that struck around the same time and that proved a further setback.
But recently things have settled down and he is optimistic about the future. “I’ve finally got back to have a self-sustaining yard. I’ve got some nice two-year-olds for a change as well as some older horses, which makes it easier because they can carry the youngsters.
“You don’t have to put pressure on the younger horses and that allows them time to mature.”
There has been one distinct positive to the lockdown. “The tracks will recover nicely going into winter. They’ve actually been in good condition but with this break, they are really looking good.”