'The French are in a good position to get back racing sooner'
Industry members tell us how they are managing in self-isolation
French-based bloodstock agent Richard Venn tells us about how he is managing – both personally and professionally – with the Europe-wide lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
How are you managing in lockdown in France?
We don’t go out much at the moment! We are allowed to go out to shop and get a bit of exercise, but we have to complete an attestation every time we do.
The French, as a nation, seem to do as they are told generally and adhere quite closely to the rules, so we have not experienced the panic buying that has been prevalent in the UK.
What are you doing differently at work to deal with the coronavirus and lockdown?
The only things I am not doing is going out to look at horses or going to sales. My assistant Sophie Teixeira moved to Chantilly last October, so we speak daily via Facetime and WhatsApp, so no change there.
I walk to the office (ten yards from my front door!) daily as before, though admittedly the hours are not so long as there is less in the way of racing results to catch up on.
How limited is your scope to do business with no racing or sales taking place in Europe at present?
I'm still booking mares into stallions. Our clients still want to breed, so I'm advising mating plans and selling nominations.
The phone still rings, I have several stallion orders and clients looking to buy mares and breeding prospects.
We have, due to some travel restrictions, been diverting mares to stallions who are a little more local to their breeders.
We have to be positive and look forward with optimism to the future. I can’t wait for racing to resume. I think the French are in a very good position to get back sooner as they have so many major training centres attached to racecourses.
I think that it would be quite simple to localise racing in such a way; perhaps putting limits on the distance that a trainer could travel. Most of the employees and personnel working at these training centres see each other virtually every day and have done since lockdown, so the risk of spreading the virus would be minimal.
Do you think the coronavirus pandemic, combined with any Brexit effect, will set the French breeding industry back?
I hope not, but does anyone really know how these events are going to affect our industry worldwide?
This whole coronavirus situation will be completely life-changing, to such a degree that we totally re-examine the way we run our businesses and how we live our lives.
I think at the moment we all have to work together to get ourselves to the 'other end' and then we can see where we all are then.
I think that it could be a very different place to the one we left behind, but we have to be positive and keep the whole thing moving forward. As Winston Churchill famously said: ‘We shall never surrender!’
On a personal level, how are you keeping yourself busy during lockdown?
I think that you have to draw the positives from this dreadful situation and one of those is that I'm luckily able to see a lot more of my family at the moment.
We have been entertaining ourselves in various ways. The children started by setting up a cross-country running course (including a variety of jumps) in the garden and then progressed to staging time trials. My eldest William – he will be 16 next month – is the current course record holder, followed by Amelie (14) and Jamie (11).
Unfortunately, I'm not the athlete I once was and despite losing one and a half stones since December 1 last year, my aged body is unable to keep the appointments my juvenile mind thinks that it's still capable of and I have been left trailing behind!
We've also rediscovered the delights of that great racing game Escalado. We spent a whole afternoon naming horses, designing race cards and devising a championship. I'm pleased to see that I have not lost my skill as a placer of horses and I managed to produce the current Escalado Coronavirus Champion: the appropriately named Fever Pitch. You couldn’t make it up!
We have also been taking turns in devising a daily quiz, where we have all, including my wife Kate, been taking turns in compiling various conundrums. I didn't discover until yesterday that there are no rivers in Saudi Arabia or any trees in Qatar!
Any film, TV or book recommendations to get us through home confinement?
I enjoyed Marriage Story and we've been catching up with a lot of the old classics like Notting Hill and A Fish Called Wanda.
On TV we've been watching The English Game, which is about the origins of modern football in England. It’s certainly entertaining.
I'm also currently reading Racehorses of 2019. I’ve got to F!
What is the availability of groceries and essential products around you like?
I went to the supermarket last Sunday afternoon, and it was a surreal experience. Now, this would be a fairly large supermarket in our local town of Villedieu les Poeles, but there were only three other cars in the car park and in the 45 minutes I spent in there I saw just two other paying customers.
Unfortunately, as it was a sunday afternoon, the wine area was off limits so the whole experience was quite a sobering one. Fortunately I had reserves at home, so Sunday was not completely ruined.
What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?
All of it! In particular I'm looking forward to going around the French farms and seeing the new foals on the ground. I've been in touch with a lot of breeders and asked them to send me details of their foals as they are born and to forward photos and videos.
I know of several nicely bred and smart National Hunt foals waiting for my inspection. I can’t wait to get out!
Read our Life in Lockdown Q&As with industry figures