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'ITM will be ready to go when the markets open up again'

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

Charles O'Neill: looking forward to resuming stable visits for ITM
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Irish Thoroughbred Marketing CEO Charles O'Neill tells us about how he is managing – both personally and professionally – with the Europe-wide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

How is life ticking over for you during lockdown?

I'm actually very fortunate in that I live on the family farm run by my two brothers, so since the lockdown my whole family have been working on the farm where there are over 60 half-bred horses.

My wife and kids are gone from 7.30 every morning until 1pm and that gives me the house to myself to get work done on behalf of ITM. There is a 3km cross country all-weather track which I walk a number of times a day. I've also been able to catch up on a lot of things with my family, which I haven’t done for the last six years because of the amount of travel involved with ITM.

In terms of ITM, we're very busy  primarily working with the breeze-up consignors and trying to come up with various plans on how we can help market their horses. We're looking at it from different scenarios  if the sales go ahead as normal, if there is no sale or if there is a breeze staged behind closed doors with the auction itself online.

We're running ideas past clients across the Middle East, Scandinavia, USA and UK to see what information they would require to enable them buy a breeze-up horse without attending the sales in person. The team are actively examining all options to see what can we do for clients who want to come to Ireland to see the breeze-up horses.

We believe that barrier trials will have a major role to play in getting unraced two-year-olds sold when we get back up and running and Jeremy Greene is actively looking into these.

We got a great boost last week with Shadow Breaker winning in Hong Kong  our first winner in that jurisdiction from the barrier trials. We're also looking at similar types of trials for point-to-point horses, which we would film, and hopefully get some of these National Hunt horses sold across the UK and Ireland.

We've also had to spend a lot of time re-adjusting our budget, as we've had to cancel a lot of race sponsorships around the world with over a dozen lost in the UK so far this year. Sandra Giles has had to renegotiate with hotels as sales are moved and race meetings are cancelled.

It's also given us an opportunity to launch a new CRM [customer relationship management] system for ITM which Eimear Grant, our UK representative, has put a lot of hours working on in conjunction with the HRI IT and finance departments. This will be a great tool in recording and facilitating how we work with our clients.

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

First and foremost was the wellbeing of the team and ensuring we had everyone in Ireland. The weekend the lockdown started we were due to be travelling to Dubai, Greece, Hong Kong and America.

Microsoft Teams and Zoom have been a great addition to the team as we keep in contact daily and use them for structured team meetings a number of times a week. This week we will have an ITM committee meeting by Zoom.

Are international clients who want to get involved in Irish sales or stallions now and in future getting in touch with you during the lockdown?

The whole team are constantly talking to our collegues around the world as there is no jurisdiction that has not been hit by Covid-19. David Burns, who is our European representative, has built up many close ties across Europe but especially in Italy and Spain and he is reaching out to them in any way he can.

We would also be talking to the both the Goffs and Tattersalls Ireland agents around the globe.

How has the pandemic affected your international marketing trips? 

Unfortunately all our trips since the middle of March have ground to a halt, especially since there was a large number of race sponsorships and events agreed.

But through technology we are talking to as many people as possible. When the markets do open up we will be ready to go again, promoting every aspect of the Irish thoroughbred industry.

On a personal level, how are you keeping yourself busy during lockdown?

As well as everything going on in ITM, I'm also helping out a few hours every week delivering meals to the elderly. I've doubled all my fitness goals and am walking and running now more than I have done in the last five years with my wife and kids, which is brilliant.

The one positive out of this is the last few weeks have really allowed me to spend time with the family and do things that I never got the opportunity to do before.

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

I'm not the greatest reader of books but two I've read in the last few weeks include Beating The Odds In Hockey And In Life. It's the biography of Eddie Olcyzk, who was a professional ice hockey player and is now an award-winning ice hockey and horse racing commentator on NBC who also recently beat cancer. I was so looking forward to trying to meet him at Royal Ascot this year.

The other book I've just finished is The Patient Assassin, which is a true story about the Raj in India and an account of a human massacre in 1919.

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

The hardest thing to get this year was Easter eggs. I'm a last-minute shopper and it didn’t go down too well when I informed the kids I could get none of their favourites. Everything else is in great supply, though. Local shops are doing a great job.

What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?

I'm so fortunate that I'm doing a job that I love and I can’t wait to get back travelling again promoting all aspects of the Irish thoroughbred industry. I'm looking forward to being back doing yard visits in the UK meeting owners, trainers and bloodstock agents.


Read more Life in Lockdown Q&As with industry figures

Freddy Powell: 'We're improving our online sale platform in case it's needed'

Bumble Mitchell: 'Online sales could be tricky for outlying studs like mine'

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'

We got a great boost last week with Shadow Breaker winning in Hong Kong – our first winner in that jurisdiction from the barrier trials
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