The measure of all young wannabes is their ability to manipulate a set of unfavourable circumstances to their advantage. In that respect Alice Haynes passes the litmus test.
It seemed like an act of lunacy when Haynes baptised herself as a trainer by opening for business at the height of the Covid lockdown in February last year. With social distancing rules preventing owners from visiting their horses, Haynes dived headlong into a profession where direct contact with people is considered paramount.
The only other Newmarket trainer to follow suit was Harry Eustace, although his circumstances were contrasting. Eustace took over an established business from his father James at Park Lodge Stables, where Eustace was born and raised. Haynes, then 29, had no familial links with racing. She was a lone messenger fortified only of a love of horses.
“You’ve got to be completely mad to train horses at the best of times,” Haynes says from her rented yard at Cadland Cottage Stables in Newmarket, “but I was in a position where it was now or never. I’d got 12 horses together, and when you look back you wonder whether it would have been any different if I’d started one year later.
“I think that would have been just as daunting. And anyway,” she says with a smile, “it was probably quite good that my owners couldn’t come to visit. It meant we could get on with establishing the routine and get going. Then the social media side of things took off.”
That’s largely because Haynes had plenty to regale social platforms with. She entered the winner’s enclosure at Wolverhampton three weeks after saddling her debut runner. The location was apt, since she’d ridden her first winner as a teenage apprentice at the Midlands track ten years earlier.
Her rich vein of form has continued unabated. Haynes set herself a target of ten winners in 2021 and posted 20. Having raised the bar to 30 winners this year she overhauled it before August was out. The Listed victory that garnished last year’s exploits has been supplanted by Lady Hollywood’s recent triumph in the Group 3 Prix d’Arenberg at Longchamp.
She is registering career milestones at a rate that identifies her as one of the most promising young trainers on the block.
Lady Hollywood has been the catalyst. The two-year-old filly is owned by football super-agent Kia Joorabchian’s Amo Racing in partnership with Omnihorse Racing, the latter entity a cryptocurrency-based virtual venture linked to the oscillating value of Amo’s horses. Joorabchian places a strong emphasis on youth, which is how he entered Haynes’ orbit.
“When I’m buying horses, I always look at everything Robson Aguiar is selling,” relates the 31-year-old. “I’ve been lucky with what I’ve bought from him. Robson knows Kia quite well and told him he should send me a horse. That’s how Mr Professor came to us.”
Mr Professor started life with Joe Tuite, for whom he made the last of three starts as a juvenile in June last year. “He was rated 65 and was running over sprint trips,” Haynes relates. “We had no idea at all what we were getting.”
Mr Professor wasn’t long in showing his mettle. He won his first two starts for Haynes before closing a busy campaign by winning a Listed event at Pontefract.
“Kia sent us a couple of horses after that,” says Haynes.
One of them was Lady Hollywood, a 64,000gns Tattersalls breeze-up purchase who has banked that sum in prize-money in winning four of her seven juvenile starts to date. In consequence she has become a staple on Haynes’ Instagram page.
As you’d expect, Haynes frequently uses social media as a marketing platform for her business.
But she maintains such platforms are merely tasters; the best way for any trainer to promote themselves is by results.
“I love Instagram,” she starts. “It’s a good way of connecting with people and it is free advertising. I’m also getting a new website designed. I’ve had a couple of new owners connect via the website, so that is still a good tool.
“I was surprised about that because I thought it might be a bit passe, whereas Instagram is more like real life. You can post something that happened that morning with a comment, and you can boost your best days when you have winners.
“But this is a results-based business,” she continues. “You can buy a yearling and put it on Instagram, other social media platforms, but will it actually sell through that? Probably not. You still need to speak to people face to face.”
That’s why Haynes frequents the sales at every opportunity. It’s not something she particularly enjoys but she recognises that opportunity knocks. The day before my visit she’d coursed through the Sommerville Yearling Sale catalogue, identified what she wanted and then set about finding new owners for them. She was two more yearlings to the good by
the day’s end.
“Sometimes I find it tedious talking to a load of new people at the sales but
it does pay off,” she says. “Going out to places like London isn’t really my cup of tea, to be honest. Maybe for a night out every now and then, but it’s such a hassle getting there and back. I’m not somebody who welcomes the limelight.”
For Haynes, the trouble with the social whirl is that it takes time away from being around her horses. She is absolutely full-on committed to them. She rises at 5am, often does the morning feed and rides out five lots to complete her morning’s work. Then follows the rounds of evening stables.
She admits she is frequently tired come the evening. She has enlisted help with the administrative side of things, all of which she used to do herself, while Charlie Sutton takes care of form study and assists with making entries. It is a small, closely-knit team, which is just as she likes it.
There is ample anecdotal evidence that Haynes struggles to achieve the requisite work-rest balance. She recently made a conscious decision to put her phone away by 7pm, by which time she has been active for 14 hours, asking owners to contact her during the day. However, that still leaves the daily diet of evening racing to tempt her into staying engaged.
And relaxing is a relative thing. So much minutiae is seared into her memory – each horse’s official rating, how much it cost, how it fared on each of its runs, where it runs next – that she must spend hours poring over the data to make it stick.
There is no secret to her success. She is making waves because of her indefatigable work ethic. She is literally forcing herself to succeed, determined to prove that good things come to those with a burning desire. One suspects it was ever thus, despite recent efforts to temper her driven nature.
“I don’t have any other hobbies,” Haynes reflects. “I like to tell myself I go to the gym, but I haven’t been for a long time. I’m in a relationship and have good friends but they are all in the racing world because they wouldn’t otherwise understand what we do. It’s difficult not to get engrossed in this game.”
It’s an energy-straining existence yet Haynes wears that particular badge with pride. It’s a by-product of trying to break into a profession populated largely by those whose parents went before them.
Haynes was very young when her parents separated. Her mother, who owned and managed a doctor’s surgery, was supportive of her daughter’s desire to make a life with horses. Haynes’ brother, by contrast, cannot abide horses and works in London.
Having started riding and walking simultaneously as a toddler, Haynes rode eventers to international standard before she was captivated by Henrietta Knight’s exploits with Best Mate and Racing Demon. She duly wrote to Knight requesting help.
That letter captures the Haynes philosophy. She saw two horses enthralling the nation and thought nothing of pitching herself to their trainer, who was herself at the top of the tree. Knight, in turn, must have sensed Haynes’ yearning and gave her a chance. She was soon schooling horses tucked in behind AP McCoy on the gallops.
Spells with Mick Channon and in Australia followed before she landed at David Simcock’s Newmarket stable with her amateur rider’s licence. Having realised she would not make a professional jockey, she turned to retraining
in her determination to run her own show. After four years it was time to part Covid-infested waters and take the plunge.
She has already learnt some harsh lessons. After some agonising, she rooted some bad payers out of the stable. “It left a nasty taste,” she says. “You start trusting people less, which is probably no bad way to be in this business.”
And her success has raised hackles. “You do hear some horrible comments,” she reflects. “People are always nice to your face on a good day but they don’t really mean it. You realise they are envious but I have learnt to laugh it off. I kill them with kindness.
“I have got more laid-back since I started training,” she continues. “In the past if someone annoyed me I’d put them back in their place straight away, but not now. It’s a question of your own health as well. You don’t want to be in a stew for too long.”
Nor does she have much truck with the so-called ‘snowflake’ generation, which is scornful of the concept of competitiveness. “Getting a pat on the back just for taking part is not how it should be,” she avers.
“You need to learn from your mistakes and be tough on yourself, rather than consoling yourself by thinking that at least you tried. You’ve got to write a list of what you’ve done wrong and not do it again. You’ve got to push yourself. I see it with young staff these days; many of them are a lot softer.”
She sees her horses through a similar lens. “They have to be a bit like soldiers,” she says. “Some are tough; they have setbacks and they come back from them. Others have setbacks and that’s the end of them, in which case you have to move them on.”
It’s rare to come across a trainer less than two years into the job who is prepared to move horses on quickly. More commonly, they persist with them for extended periods only because their owners pay the bills. Yet while an empty box generates no income, Haynes cannot abide the emotional strain promoted by a bad horse.
“To me, it’s demoralising going racing when you have no chance of winning,” she says. “Why do it? You’re leading good owners on, then you dread it when they ring for a chat so you end up emailing them instead. You beat yourself up on bad days anyway and that’s how I’d feel if I knew I had two bad horses running next week. The only thing you get out of it is grief.”
No grief will be involved when Haynes travels to Keeneland to supervise Lady Hollywood’s bid for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint on November 4. It’s an audacious target for the filly, but then Haynes is audacious by nature.
“When Kia asked if I liked any of the horses he’d bought at the sales I told him I liked Lady Hollywood,” she recalls. “I didn’t go for any of the more expensive ones; I didn’t feel I was in a position to do that at the time.
“You look at Lady Hollywood today and she’s a plain-Jane chestnut filly. There’s nothing big or flash about her but she wears her heart on her sleeve. If she wins at the Breeders’ Cup I’ll feel like I can ask Kia for anything.”