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'Online yearling sales could be tricky for outlying studs like mine'

Industry figures tell us how they are managing in self-isolation

Bumble Mitchell: reducing mare numbers and upgrading covers
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Lincolnshire-based breeder and consignor Bumble Mitchell tells us about how she is managing – both personally and professionally – with the British government's lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

How is life ticking over for you in lockdown?

Luckily with horses you have to stick to certain routines to keep them looked after, and living on a farm there is plenty of space to go out and maintain social distancing. So I'm continuing much as I have done in other years; day-to-day life on the farm has stayed pretty much the same.

What new measures have you brought in to deal with coronavirus and the lockdown?

The farm is in a very remote part of north Lincolnshire, way off the beaten track, so we do everything in isolation anyway! Fergus Anstock from Clearwater Stud has paid me a visit a couple of times and he jokes that getting here is like travelling to the North Pole.

However, we're still following all the TBA recommendations and hygiene protocols of course. I had one staff member who showed symptoms of Covid-19 so she immediately went into self-isolation and I was very strict about anyone who had any contact with her whatsoever doing the same.

Most jobs on the farm don't require people working together so social distancing comes easily.

How have the breeding and foaling seasons been going for you?

From 11 foals born so far, eight have been colts, so I must have been better behaved in the last year!

Two have been born in Newmarket, so I haven't seen them yet but from photographs they look very nice – a Zoustar filly out of Kerry's Dream, the dam of Maljaa and Ventura Mist, and a Postponed colt out of Rouge Dancer, making him a half-brother to Listed winner Spiritual Lady. He belongs to my son.

A couple of particularly good-looking foals I have here on the farm are a Dandy Man colt out of Image, a four-time winning half-sister to Group 3 scorer Dutch Masterpiece, and a full-brother to the US Grade 3 winner A Bit Special by Mukhadram. He's all quality.

On the breeding side, I decided this year to cut down the numbers I'm getting covered and have tried to upgrade the matings of the ones remaining, as I just think the bottom end of the market is too testing. The economic effect of the coronavirus pandemic won't help.

That said, I remain glass half-full, as I've lived through enough recessions now to know the industry always gets through them one way or another. Each time we heard that the end is nigh but the market has always recovered.

I'm not naive, I do of course recognise that what's coming might be worse than before due to the unprecedented nature of the lockdown, but it's important to remember that the world keeps turning. And a small correction on the number of horses being produced might not be the worst thing ever.

What do you think of online sales, if needs must in the current circumstances?

I'm not technical in any way whatsoever, but I'm aware the way we do things evolves – and the lockdown has shown that it has to.

My one concern, if it ever came to having to sell yearlings in an online-only format, is that it will be tricky for people like myself in outlying studs, away from the main breeding centres of Newmarket, Lambourn and Gloucestershire.

I think we saw in the Inglis Easter online sale last week that the farms in the central Hunter Valley locations fared a lot better than those further out, as pre-sale inspections could be carried out more easily and with less hassle.

Perhaps it might be an ongoing innovation, whatever happens with this yearling sales season, that the auction houses and/or the industry's promotional bodies could come out and film footage of the yearlings to place on the website alongside each lot's usual pedigree details. It could entice more buyers and help protect against any travel restrictions in future.

On a personal level, how are you managing during lockdown?

As I say, it's the same routine with the horses for me so there's no big change. I haven't seen my grandchildren for a while, which is a shame, but then I don't usually see them much during the breeding season anyway as it's so busy.

One big issue is the local fish and chip shop has closed. I'm not eating without it!

Any film, TV or book recommendations to share to get through home confinement?

During this part of the year I spend rather a lot of time up at night watching the foaling monitors, and during that I manage to see plenty of live Australian racing. I've become quite a fan of racing down under and have learned a fair bit from it – it was watching all of Zoustar's winners in the southern hemisphere that put me on to him and made me use him when he came up here.

Due to staying up all night I don't watch much telly as I tend to fall asleep very easily. It has to be something really scary or gripping, like Killing Eve, to keep me awake.

What is the availability of groceries and essential products around you like?

Well, I'm not that keen on shopping at the best of times – I usually manage to persuade someone kind to get any groceries in for me! But I've got everything I need. I can live very frugally without any upset.

What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?

I love two-year-old racing and can't wait to see the juveniles back on the track.

I think it should be quite a fun year with the ones we've bred or sold. One I'm particularly looking forward to seeing is a lovely Exceed And Excel filly out of Kerry's Dream who we sold to Shadwell for 150,000gns. She's in training with Kevin Prendergast.

I'm also keen to see the return of Kurious, a four-year-old filly with Henry Candy who was just emerging as a really good sprinter last summer when she suffered a little setback and had to miss the rest of the season.

I have her dam, Easy To Imagine, here in retirement for her owner Marie Matthews. She's been the most remarkable mare, producing Kurious, Alpha Delphini, Tangerine Trees, Masai Moon and Fairy Falcon all from inexpensive covers.


Read our Life in Lockdown Q&As with industry figures

David Stack: 'I had to give a garda a lesson about the birds and the bees'

Colm Sharkey: 'I've been torturing myself trying to sort out my golf swing'

Rachael Gowland: 'I didn't realise how much I loved racing until I couldn't go'

Sam Hoskins: 'I've been listening to endless Cold War podcasts on my tractor'

Niamh Spiller: 'Video calls are very important to keep everyone motivated'

Jamie Lloyd: 'Staff have had all their own gear labelled, even wheelbarrows'

Micheál Orlandi: 'The stallions are flying and that gives me great hope'

Richard Venn: 'The French are in a good position to get back racing sooner'

Tim Kent: 'It's difficult to plan when we don't know when racing will resume'

Russell Ferris: 'Weatherbys had contingency plans that we activated at once'

Grant and Tom Pritchard-Gordon: 'Inglis Easter has kept us busy since January'

Peter Hockenhull: 'The social side of meeting and chatting to breeders is gone'

Polly Bonnor: 'We've fulfilled every feed order, including all our exports'

Richard Lancaster: 'We're fortunate that some Shadwell staff live on site'

I remain glass half-full, as I've lived through enough recessions now to know the industry always gets through them one way or another
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