Hills assistant narrowly avoids being stranded in Dubai as UAE suspends flights

Jamie Insole, who had been overseeing Charlie Hills' World Cup night hope Equilateral in Dubai, spoke of his relief at being able to fly home after a "mad panic" but also expressed surprise at the lack of anti-coronavirus measures in place at London Gatwick.

Insole, who is Hills' assistant, arrived in Britain on Monday night after the £30 million-plus Dubai World Cup meeting, which was due to take place at Meydan on Saturday, was cancelled on Sunday. The UAE authorities announced on Tuesday that all flights would be suspended from Thursday.

Owned by Khalid Abdullah, the smart Equilateral had been due to contest the Al Quoz Sprint, but was making his way back to Britain on Tuesday.

Insole – taking the measure of self-isolating himself in Somerset rather than returning to Hills's Lambourn base – said: "It all happened really quickly. On Saturday I did my last piece of work with Equilateral, and was really happy with him. 

"He had a day off on Sunday and just went for a walk and it was all systems go until I was in evening stables and found out the World Cup was off.

"It all sort of spiralled from then and I heard reports some of the jockeys had been told they had 15 hours to leave the country. It was a bit of a race to get flights booked and get home.

"I got Steph [Potter] in the office to look at some flights and I think they were £280 with British Airways, then an hour later they were £1,900.

"It was a mad panic then to get out of the country because the word on the street was a two-week lockdown until this blows over." 

European contingent due to be shipped out of Dubai after World Cup cancellation

Insole, whose time with Alan King included looking after Hennessy hero Smad Place, was shocked at the lack of precautions in place at Gatwick.

"I've been following the news in Dubai and that's why they're shutting down the country and not letting people in or out – to try to stop the spread," he added.

"With all the other measures taken in the UK, I was a bit surprised that we've flown back on an Airbus A380 which I think can carry 487 passengers and not including the crew, got off at Gatwick, gone through immigration, picked up our bags and gone straight out, with not one question asked.

"I think there were a few leaflets going through customs, but no personnel there asking any questions if we'd been sick or under the weather or even where we'd travelled from.

He added: "When I flew to Dubai three weeks ago, it had just started to become a problem and they were doing all the thermal imaging screening as you were going through customs, checking temperatures and taking measures.

"I heard last week that anyone arriving in Dubai was also getting a health screening. Nothing was done here when I got back and I spoke to Charlie, who doesn't want me to come back to the yard straight away just in case I've picked up something. I'm down in Somerset, which is probably the best thing to do as it can take up to ten days for symptoms to emerge."

Insole, whose uncle, jump jockey Will Kennedy, has just started riding out for Hills, was saddened to miss the mega-money jamboree with Equilateral – an impressive winner at Meydan in January – but feels it was ultimately correct to call off the meeting.

"I think there was a bit of disappointment because the Americans arrived last Tuesday, the Japanese on Wednesday and at that stage you thought it had to go ahead now," he said.

"If they were going to cancel it they'd have done it before everyone started arriving, you thought.

"These are some of the best and most expensive horses in the world and to travel that distance can cause horses stress, while the American horses and staff now face quarantine restrictions when they get home. I did think it was the right decision to cancel, but perhaps it could have been done a week ago."