'Racing has the chance to showcase itself to a captive audience'
Industry figures tell us how they are managing in self-isolation
Goffs marketing director Joey Cullen 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 at the moment?
Late last summer my family and I moved house. My son’s primary concern for any new home was getting excellent broadband and I only realise now just how right he was!
I’m based near the Irish National Stud and the Curragh and I'm not far from Bobby O’Ryan, who has been keeping me entertained with the odd WhatsApp joke to lighten up the regular text messages telling me about the arrival of another filly foal.
I haven’t seen as much TV as I expected to, but the craving for quality racing means I’ve enjoyed watching all the trials for the Kentucky Derby. I'm now just waiting for Maxfield to impress on his return.
What are you doing in your Goffs role during lockdown?
It’s been busy. I oversee IT for Goffs so initially it was hectic ensuring that colleagues could adapt smoothly to working from home remotely. Thankfully we’ve had a relatively seamless transition and the team can continue processing sale nominations, entries and accounts.
I expect I’m like everyone else; I just can’t wait to get racing again. This week last year I’d enjoyed Punchestown, Guineas weekend, getting soaked in Chester – and enjoying Mehdaayih, Sir Dragonet, Great Dame and Leodis Dream all winning in the rain – before flying home for the inaugural Goffs Polonia Stakes, which was won by the Irish National Stud Racing’s Lethal Promise on the night Cork launched their new seven-furlong straight course.
With all the required moving of sales dates, communication has been essential and we’ve been working hard at Goffs to try and keep clients as up to date with revised plans as possible.
It’s also important to keep in contact with people and listen to their concerns, and see how we can work with them to minimise the impact of the current situation. The team at Goffs have examined, in detail, all options for every 'what if' scenario and that preparedness should stand us in good stead during this time of uncertainty.
What's the latest on the amalgamated Goffs and Arqana Breeze-Up Sale? Has the later than expected date for Irish racing's resumption changed anything?
The first preference remains to hold the sale at the end of June with the breeze a few days in advance, to allow us to disseminate all the relevant information to potential purchasers well in advance of the auction itself.
The uncertainty surrounding Irish racing is certainly not helpful, but we're going to delay any further decisions until we see what's planned for British racing, which should be clearer next week.
What have you missed most that you would usually be doing at this time of year?
This time last year I was looking forward to York. It’s one of my favourite meetings of the year and a great opportunity to see clients and friends in advance of the upcoming sales.
I'm also lucky enough to be invited to see the young horses at Steve Parkin's Branton Court Stud at this time of the year, and that’s always a highlight.
I'm also usually looking forward to the Goffs Land Rover Sale, getting to visit UK trainers and working with ITM to offer every assistance we can to make a trip to the sale as enjoyable and as easy as possible. With the National Hunt season over it’s always a great time to catch up with people and look back on the season that has just gone, as trainers aren’t under so much pressure.
The Goffs London Sale would also have been on the horizon, so I would've been working with Nick [Nugent] and the team at Goffs to identify horses that would be candidates for that, as well as enjoying the two-year-old racing. This is usually a great time of the year, when so many owners and trainers are dreaming of Royal Ascot.
Do you think there will be any positives to come out of the crisis eventually?
First and foremost, with so many tragic stories still unfolding all around us, I hope that the crisis puts into perspective for people how precious life is, and how we take so many things for granted.
Looking at our industry, I think it has accelerated an evolution in the way we work that we had already seen in the last decade.
Finding time to complete projects was one of the biggest problems many of us faced, so the ability to hold meetings remotely over Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype instead of travelling is a way of regaining that precious commodity. I hope we continue to use those time-saving platforms in the future.
I also think this will be a turning point in the growth of online sales of certain types of horses such as mares and horses in training, as it will keep associated sales costs down for lower-grade stock.
I do, however, believe that untried horses such as foals, yearlings, stores and other young stock will still need to be seen in the flesh by prospective buyers and/or their representatives.
The Goffs London Sale was ground-breaking in that respect, in that it showed people that horses can be traded successfully while never leaving their stables – as long as you provide comprehensive details for potential buyers along with the security of the robust auction house terms and conditions.
This is a great industry to be involved in and the enjoyment that horses at every stage of their life give to people has been brought back to the forefront of our minds. Hopefully it will remain there.
Give us two dark horses sold at Goffs – one Flat, one National Hunt – to follow on the track
The end of season two-year-old maiden form in Ireland is always very strong and the Ger Lyons-trained Chiricahua, a son of Camelot sold at the Orby, ran second in two such races behind very promising horses. He looked to be a future ten furlong-plus colt to keep an eye on and should have no problem shedding his maiden before going on to better things.
Hoi Polloi, a five-year-old by Shantou, was a gorgeous three-year-old store when bought by Gerry Hogan for Nick Mustoe at the Land Rover Sale in 2018 and he has been patiently handled by Emma Lavelle. He looked a horse with a big engine when overcoming all sorts of trouble to win his Kempton bumper impressively in February. Hopefully he stays lucky for connections.
Any film, TV or book recommendations to share to get through home confinement?
I purchased Tony Morris and John P Sparkman’s book In Our Time: Memories of Great Racehorses when it launched a few years ago and am only getting the time to read it now. I'm loving the behind the scenes stories they have about so many of these wonderful horses.
I haven’t watched as much TV as I thought likely at this stage.
Instead, I've enjoyed going down memory lane watching a lot of replays of old races that I found captivating when I was growing up and getting into racing: Zafonic in the Salamandre – what a horse on his day – Ajdal, Nashwan and so on. They were horses I latched onto early and supported throughout their careers.
Nothing has changed now. I still enjoy the two-year-old racing and seeing young horses progress through their careers, and dreaming about what they might achieve.
What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?
Most of all, I'm looking forward to normality returning to the industry, which will allow confidence to build again.
Racing, and the thrill of campaigning a horse, is the crux of the sport and it’s what breeding, sales, training and all the other components of the industry revolve around.
When racing resumes and re-establishes itself I believe everything else will naturally find its place, with some hard work and compromises along the way.
Like many industries that go through a major shock, racing and breeding will bounce back leaner and more focused. However, it is now that opportunity knocks.
Now is the time for sales companies to fine-tune online auctions for certain types of horses and help people to keep trading; now is the time for owners, breeders and pinhookers to get a better broodmare, yearling, foal or racehorse for their money than they could have hoped for previously.
Now is the time for racing to double down and get out there, and attract new fans while people are craving live sport. Advertising costs haven’t been as affordable in a decade as they are now, so shouldn’t the industry be blitzing social media, advertising on all sports channels, have more presenters in the studios or by zoom?
Shouldn’t racing invest in free to air coverage for the remainder of the season, with more interaction with trainers and owners on TV as they might not be able to go to the races as much? Will racing ever get a better chance to showcase itself to a captive audience than it will over the next few weeks?
And I'd love to see more media coverage of owners, who for the vast majority have been patient and generous in keeping horses in training during this time of uncertainty.
Read more Life in Lockdown Q&As with industry figures