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'We're working on improving our online sale platform in case it's needed'

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

Freddy Powell: catching up with classic French literature in lockdown
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Arqana executive director Freddy Powell 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 at Arqana ticking over during lockdown?

Spirits are as high despite the current circumstances. We're obviously not as busy as we normally are, and are all a bit disappointed as we could have had a great spring both on the track and in the sales ring. But we also know that we're privileged to work for a company and that many of our clients have much tougher challenges to face than we do.

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

We can’t thank our brilliant staff enough – they've adapted amazingly to the situation.

Only a few of us are still coming into the office regularly for meetings; the vast majority of the staff are working from home, compiling yearling entries, writing pedigrees, calling clients or developing marketing projects for after lockdown.

We're using all the technology we can to maintain contact between us and we even have a Whatsapp group that includes every single member of staff. It’s been a while since I've seen a work related message on it, though!

Joking apart, it's important that while we're not currently able to work closely together within an office context, we keep communicating and working as a team.

What's the latest news on the Arqana sales calendar? 

President Macron announced on Monday night that lockdown in France will be extended to May 11, so even the most optimistic among us who once believed the original breeze-up date of May 8-9 could happen will finally have to accept it won't, and we will announce officially that it's not happening!

Earlier this month we pencilled in contingency dates of June 2-4 but even then it seems doubtful that gatherings of people would be allowed and that restaurants and hotels will be open.

So we could extend our July Sale to include the breeze-up catalogue or even postpone for a few weeks. And there is, of course, the online or virtual solution.

For the August Sale, nothing has been decided yet. We're expecting to hear about the 'after lockdown' process in the next couple of weeks. Obviously, for our flagship sale, we would like to be able to welcome all our international clientele in normal conditions, so we’ll see…

What did you make of the Inglis Easter online sale? How prepared would Arqana be to do similar if the need arose?

Congratulations to the Inglis team, it was a great achievement. I have to admit, I didn’t know what to make of it: I wasn’t worried from a logistical and technological perspective, but I didn’t think so many people would invest in racehorses during these times. I guess I was biased because our racing has been suspended in Europe.

We have experience of online-only sales with Arqanaonline, and it works very well for a limited number of horses.

We also conducted some virtual sales for high-class show jumpers and embryos, and we're working at the minute to improve our online platform so we can use it if the need arose.

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

Thank god it has been school holidays since last Friday as the home schooling of a nine-year-old, eight-year-old and six-year-old is quite something!

Otherwise, I still go to the office (it's much quieter there to get some work done) and we're allowed one hour of exercise daily, so I run. Although it's not easy to follow my sons George and Edward when they race each other on their bikes.

If it wasn't for the economic catastrophe that we're possibly going to deal with, I would be enjoying my life at the minute. I've never seen so much of my family and I don’t have to pack a travelling bag every three days.

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

As for films or TV, the kids usually get the last word but the family is having a lot of fun with the karaoke games on the Playstation. I think I'm the one enjoying it the most listening to them – especially when my wife Anna and my daughter Eleanor are competing.

I'm not sure they enjoy it so much when I'm singing my old French tunes, though…

For books, I've realised that I'm not enjoying reading books about racing when there's no racing on, I just find it depressing! But I am reading quite a lot of French literature at the minute  classics that I didn’t understand when I was younger and have never read before.

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

There's absolutely no problem of that sort in Deauville. We're lucky to live only five minutes’ walk from the Deauville market, which is still happening three days a week. I bought some beautiful fresh fillet of John Dory this morning. I can’t wait!

What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?

Racing itself really; John Hammond was describing it beautifully in the TDN the other day – racing makes you feel alive like no other activity, sport or job.

I wish all the people in charge of racing institutions in France, the UK, Ireland and everywhere all the very best in the coming weeks to restore our lives, jobs and passion as promptly as possible.

Read more of our Life in Lockdown Q&As with industry figures

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'


Obviously, for our flagship sale, we would like to be able to welcome all our international clientele in normal conditions, so we’ll see
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