Greg Cheyne’s New Life At Newmarket

Greg Cheyne talks about his new life in Newmarket

Former jockey Greg Cheyne always looked happy and content with life in South Africa when he was a Top 5 jockey for the largest part of the last 20 racing seasons.

Now, as an all-round stable trainee in the powerful William Haggas stable in Newmarket, UK, where his daily duties include the mucking out of stables, he seems even happier.


We happened upon the Haggas string on the Bury Road crossover that leads to the working tracks on the Newmarket Heath a few days ago. Traffic stops for horses here, not for people.

And there was Greg, at the back of a 35-member third string, sitting atop one of the Haggas powerhouses crossing the road.

We had a chance to chat at the Tattersalls Book 1 Sale a few hours later and we had to open with a potentially stupid question but asked it anyway. “Greg, was that horse you were on, the superstar, Baaeed?”

Baaeed would probably not be at the back end of the third string around 9am in the morning and Greg explained: “Baaeed, being the special horse he is, has one handler – his groom, Ricky Hall, who is the only one allowed to canter him. Michael Hills is the only rider who gallops him. Baaeed is royalty here and deservedly so. No, that was not Baaeed under me, I wish!”

Greg’s 46 now, he could’ve ridden his average 120 winners per season in South Africa for another five years or more (he’s ridden 2370 winners), but there is life after a career in the saddle and he and wife Claire have set their sights on progressively more hands-on involvement in the renowned Haggas yard at Somerville Lodge.

To achieve this, both have to start at the bottom and work their way up, and have been more than happy to do so.

He told: “In South Africa I rode work for 30 years, I got on and off a number of horses and went home. Now, I am learning proper horsemanship which includes so many other factors. To be starting from scratch in one of the world’s most accomplished and professionally managed racing yards is an honour and a rare privilege. Every day brings new experiences, I have learnt so much and continue to learn working in a focused and respectful team. You have to see this operation to believe it, it is truly amazing!”

The Haggas stable has two yards, one for older horses and one for two-year-olds. The string can peak up to near 200, but they are culling at this time of year for the new string of youngsters to enter the barn. William has three assistant trainers and four head lads, each with an understudy, a group of permanent muckers and then up to 40 grooms/work riders and a number of office staff. William and his wife Maureen oversee the entire operation. This Saturday they have 13 runners declared, running at three different courses. A few weeks ago there were 17 runners at five different tracks, including one in France.

Greg said: “I have never seen the clinical attention to basics like I have here. Each horse has a bridle, grooming kit, rubbers, towels, girth sleeves and sometimes boots. They’re all washed every day, we have washing machines and dryers, a team that takes care of that. Bandages are not used twice. They are washed every time they’re taken off, or replaced. When we get to the stables in the morning the whole kit is there for every horse, clean, polished and ready.”

Greg’s day starts at 5.30am when horses for the first string are saddled and sent to the heath for work that starts at 6am. “There are many options with all the tracks here, and the horses get mileage. They walk a long way to the track, canter for 6 furlongs and then gallop. This is part of the reason they get so fit here. There is a team that looks after the tracks, they’re up and down all the time. The other day a horse broke through the fence and it was repaired before lunchtime.”

Haggas sends out four strings every day, after which stable staff enjoy a break between 1230 and 4pm, followed by end-of-the-day procedures like mucking and feeding.

“We never do the same tasks every day. Horses are rotated for morning gallops, William sends out a detailed work programme to everyone on our Whatsapp group every night and he is there in the morning from the first string onwards. He greets every worker by name, every day, and he knows exactly what work you’ll be doing. He has quite a special mind on him, I don’t know how he remembers all the little details about every horse and every groom, but he does.”

Yesterday, Greg told, he and his scheduled work partner Luke had to wheelbarrow stacks of hay to the stable buckets and he laughed: “Trainer Alan Greeff’s head groom in South Africa is Amos and we used to joke with him saying, ‘Amos, you have a silly apron on, you look like a clown!’ I also have an apron now that I have to wear when we feed, mixing in oils and so on, I want to send them a photo.”

Working just in the same vicinity of thoroughbreds with superstar status like Baaeed makes everything even more worthwhile and Greg commented: “He’s a beautiful laid-back horse. He gets taken out often to show for important visitors, just takes everything in his stride. We are all excited about his last run on Champions Day this Saturday.”


Greg received this trophy on behalf of William Haggas for the King’s first Listed winner

Greg is intrigued by the idea of becoming a travelling assistant and he noted: “I’d like to have opportunities to travel as an assistant one day and for that to happen I need to have the knowledge and experience. What I am learning now, stable management, poulticing, bandaging, feeding, and so on, are all part of a new journey Claire and I have started. She’s just recently spent time working with the Haggas team at the treadmill and the spa, she’s learnt about nebulizing, the salt box as well as learning about head duties. She has her physio background. She did her six-month course at the National Stud here last year, but she also loves working in the racing yard and we’re both committed to a period of change in our lives. This could really take us anywhere, in time.”

Greg said he had a chance earlier this week to accompany assistant trainer Isabella Paul to Yarmouth, where they saddled three winners. “One of them was Perfect Alibi, His Majesty King Charles’s first Listed winner. It was a special moment to be there and accept the prize.”

And so, it is clear, an exciting new phase has dawned in the life of Greg Cheyne.

He’s not yet sure where this proverbial rebirth will lead, but with his professional attitude, calm demeanour and work ethic there are good things on the horizon, indeed.


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