'Films are a waste of time – I've been watching festival replays instead'
Industry figures tell us how they are managing in self-isolation
Tattersalls bloodstock sales executive Matt Hall 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?
I've bunkered down in Newmarket. I'm very lucky in that respect, as we're surrounded by horses and they have continued to be exercised in line with government restrictions.
I've downloaded Strava and have been trying to get out running three or four days a week, believe it or not. Liz Lane, another member of our team, keeps a close eye on my progress and enjoys reminding me how slow I am. It's getting quite competitive.
I've also tried to do plenty of walking around the area and that has highlighted to me what a fantastic training centre Newmarket is; the variety and choice of gallops available to its resident trainers are second to none. I love watching horses work and exercise, so have timed the walks to allow for that. I'm also on the lookout for a bike, so if anyone has one for sale please do get in touch!
I’ve also been trying to hone my cooking skills. A few good friends of mine have been sending me video tutorials, namely Max Pimlott, International Racing Bureau supremo and master chef, and Shirley Anderson-Jolag, a long-suffering colleague. I've finally mastered some of the basic dishes now.
What are you doing in your Tattersalls role during lockdown?
We're all working from home and the whole team is keeping busy with plenty of projects on the go.
Like everyone else, we're making use of the Skype and Zoom platforms, and have video calls every day led by Matt Prior, head of Ascot and Cheltenham Sales. We're planning as best we can for every eventuality.
With no live sales taking place it has given us a chance to complete some of the more menial tasks and jobs that needed doing. Indeed, we're taking stock and planning to improve and innovate to ensure we offer an even better service and product when we're back up and running. We're in contact with our clients, purchasers and vendors alike, keeping them in the loop as best we can.
We've moved the Ascot Breeze-Up Sale to run alongside the Craven; this has been well received with positive feedback from both vendors and potential purchasers.
We've announced the re-introduction of the Tattersalls Cheltenham October Sale, attached to the Cheltenham Showcase meeting on October 23, which will facilitate the inevitable increase in quality horses for sale at that time.
The likely enhancements to the 2020-21 autumn point-to-point seasons on both sides of the Irish Sea will afford vendors the opportunity to return to normality as early as possible.
The remaining Cheltenham autumn sales dates will stay the same: November 13 at the November meeting and December 11 alongside the International Meeting.
I've also been trying to practise my auctioneering in front of the mirror. It's a scary sight.
What feedback are you getting from point-to-point trainers?
As we all know, the point-to-point industry in Ireland is very cyclical and commercial, and that aspect of the British industry is accelerating at pace as well. The point-to-point handlers are a resilient bunch and a joy to deal with, and their positive nature and outlook is a breath of fresh air on both sides of the Irish sea.
The product they provide to market is proven, with graduates of the sphere continuing to excel on the track, and so the demand for pointers with form will always be strong as a result.
This was borne out at this year’s Cheltenham Festival through Shishkin, Envoi Allen, Ferny Hollow, Monkfish and Chosen Mate. All were point-to-point graduates sold at the Tattersalls Cheltenham sales.
As a team – Richard Pugh, Jamie Codd, Richard Botterill and myself – we are in regular contact with the trainers.
The store sales are undoubtedly going to present challenges to vendors and purchasers. There are still a lot of four-year-olds – 60 to 70 per cent – that haven’t been able to run in Ireland, meaning that the enhanced autumn point-to-point racing is going to be fiercely competitive.
I'm sure the handlers will still be very active in the store market, as the three sales we held at Cheltenham this year were all very strong.
What have you missed most that you would usually be doing at this time of year?
This would usually be an extremely busy time of year for the Tattersalls Ascot and Cheltenham team, with our Ascot Breeze-Up Sale and Cheltenham April and May Sales taking place.
I have to say I thrive on the buzz of sales days and auctioneering, selling the dream, so I'm missing that.
But you have to put everything into perspective in these unprecedented times, and the health and safety of people is far more important than anything else and we cannot be complacent.
I love the four-year-old point-to-point season, as it's the nursery for so many of the jumps stars of the future, so I'm missing that too.
To be honest, I just miss racing in general. I live, breathe, eat and sleep it, and living in Newmarket this would usually be an exciting time of year with the Flat Season beginning to crank up and go through the gears.
We would also usually be finalising entries for the Cheltenham May Sale, which is our largest sale as a rule in terms of the number of horses we offer with the point-to-point season still in full swing.
Monkfish was a graduate of that sale in 2018, sold by Cormac Doyle, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sell him that day.
Do you think there will be any positives to come out of the crisis eventually?
It's certainly made me realise how lucky we all are to work in the industry. People in racing and bloodstock have a great camaraderie and are also good at pulling together in challenging situations. Uncertain times lie ahead, but the industry is very resilient.
I took great interest in what Inglis did with their online Easter Yearling Sale, as did all industry stakeholders, and all credit to them as it worked very well.
As an industry we have to react to the current climate and all options, including online platforms, will need to be explored and embraced if they provide the best opportunity to allow our clients to trade horses. Our clients are the heartbeat of the industry.
Give us two dark horses: one sold at Cheltenham and one at Ascot.
First, a horse called Love Your Work, who was well bought at the Ascot December Sale for £10,000 by Magic Bloodstock. He won two races in quick succession for Timothy Fitzgerald and I think he will remain progressive on the turf when racing returns.
Then a left-field Cheltenham graduate: Tremwedge, bought by Anthony Bromley and Alan King at the 2019 December Sale from Ellmarie Holden. He has good juvenile hurdle form and could be attractively handicapped on the flat For his new tip-top dual-purpose trainer!
Any film, TV or book recommendations to share to get through home confinement?
I usually enjoy watching live sport but instead I've been reading Michael O’Leary’s biography A Life in Full Flight – what a remarkable man he is – and Horse Trader: Robert Sangster and the Rise and Fall of the Sport of Kings.
I don’t do films, they're a waste of time when I could be watching festival replays, bloodstock features and sporting podcasts.
What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?
The resumption of racing, when it's safe to do so, will provide a real injection of adrenaline into the veins of the whole industry. It will also signal the return of sales, which will provide a huge lift and boost to the bloodstock industry.
I'm also particularly looking forward to racing coming back as I have a very small share in a two-year-old in training with Richard Spencer and a little involvement in All Stars Sports Racing, who have horses with Christian Williams and will have one or two National Hunt horses to run over the summer, hopefully.
I enjoy charting the progress of first-season sires and following the graduates of our Ascot Yearling Sale – I think we have some exciting ones – and Breeze-Up.
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