'Stallion masters will have to look at dropping fees'
Industry figures tell us how they are managing in self-isolation
Bloodstock agent and FBA chairman Oliver St Lawrence 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, how has life changed due to Covid-19 and lockdown?
I have really enjoyed working from home and spending more time with my family. It turns out they're not a bad bunch after all!
With a laptop, printer and a good internet connection, it's amazing how much I can get done without being in my office. I'm getting itchy feet to get going again, though.
With no racing or sales in Europe at present, your scope to do business must be limited. What are you doing instead?
I have actually stayed pretty busy liaising between owners, trainers, breeders and studs, overseeing Aislabie Stud plus my stallion nominations business.
I've been helping stallion shareholders sell unused nominations they have spare which has proven to be productive for all with over 200 nominations traded.
As Chairman of the FBA (Federation of Bloodstock Agents) we have had our AGM and council meetings online by Zoom, which has been a novel experience for me.
What's your view on online sales, if they had to happen in Europe this year?
If they had to happen online then we will have to cope but it is not a prospect I look forward to. Judging horses off a video will be challenging but I’m sure we’ll learn to adapt.
We at the FBA have tried to be constructive and suggest to the sales houses a few criteria and protocols for the breeze-up sales when videoing and vetting that will make it less tricky to evaluate individuals.
I’m sure we will refine this for other types of sales as the year moves on, if required. If those criteria can be achieved and if everything is available in as transparent and open a way as possible then hopefully buyers will have the confidence to participate.
What vibes are you getting from clients about their participation in the industry in the short term?
I rarely have clients with big budgets at the breeze-up sales and my main client, Fawzi Nass, bought plenty of yearlings last season, so I’m not expecting to be troubling the top echelons of the market.
I expect I’ll have a few smaller orders when things become clearer. Yearling sale orders will partially depend on what happens on the racecourse before then, so let us hope some of the horses that have fuelled my extended winter dreams dash to glory when racing is up and running again.
What's your best guess on what will happen to the market this year, and how long it will take to recover?
I'm naturally cautious and I’m afraid I think a vaccine is a few years away but hopefully drugs that control the insidious effects of Covid-19 will be identified soon.
Unfortunately some owners will inevitably not be able to continue supporting our great product, so the market will undoubtedly suffer. Hopefully it will be a manageable dip and breeders and pinhookers will be able to continue to trade. We’ve had some good years so with luck we can all survive to fight another day.
Do you think there will be any positive consequences to come out of the crisis eventually?
I think that all sections of the industry have shown a willingness to pull together and help each other in these strange times. Hopefully that spirit of cooperation can carry forward.
Stallion masters have rarely been generous in their pricing of stallions and they will have to seriously look at dropping stallion fees for 2021 for all but a very few.
Depending on the size of the dip in the yearling market, I think there's a case for stallion masters to relook at 2020 contract prices after evaluating the autumn sales results.
Any film, TV or book recommendations to share to get through home confinement?
I have always loved a good relaxing TV programme (Killing Eve etc) after supper but have not found the time, or inclination, to switch the box on during the day. A good fiction read (John Grisham et al) helps me get to sleep.
What are you most looking forward to when racing and life return to normal?
I do miss being able to go out to dinner with friends as Zoom drinks is a poor substitute. The fevered anticipation for the start of grass racing is even more heightened this year with the season starting with a bang and continuing at that lofty mid-season level rather than the stuttering slow start in a normal year.
Not being on course and being distant from connections will make any big winner hard to celebrate and really savour. I do hope racecourses allow extra filming etc for connections so that owners can still get as much of a buzz as possible from each runner, however lowly.
Hopefully Group 3 Albany and Group 2 Rockfel Stakes winner Daahyeh will return better than ever whilst being supported by the beautifully bred Frankel filly Queen Daenerys, who has filled out her considerable frame since finishing a respectable sixth in the Group 1 Fillies' Mile last autumn.
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