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'Yearling trade will be down but all we can do is roll with the punches'

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

Tom Blain: unable to run the London Marathon but still keeping fit
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Tom Blain, manager of Barton Stud in Suffolk, 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 Barton Stud ticking over?

Really well. We've welcomed some lovely foals this season by some of the established stallions as well as a couple of particularly nice individuals by first-season sires.

We've introduced all of the TBA’s advised measures to protect the team working and living here at Barton Stud. This has involved a bit of a change but they haven't been difficult to implement at all.

I have to say, all of the guys here are being extremely sensible. They understand how serious the situation is and realise how important they are to the welfare of the horses here and to the running of the business.

Other than that we are very much continuing as normal and enjoying the beautiful spring weather. There are 15 mares left to foal and we are covering away as best we can.

You've just become a father for the first time; how is raising a baby in lockdown going?

I'm sure every parent would say the same but we're extremely lucky. Rose is a good sleeper and eating well so is very little trouble.

My wife Pip is an amazing mum and has her in a brilliant routine. This is an extremely busy time of year for the stud so I can’t say lockdown is hugely different than any other year.

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

We've introduced social distancing, more personal protective equipment, individual implements and so on, and each person has their own bottle of hand sanitising gel they keep on their person all the time, along with many other small changes.

It's all teamwork and everyone needs to look out for each other.

Are you and your clients covering fewer mares this year, or cracking on as normal in the hope the market recovers?

We're very much continuing as normal. as are the majority of our clients. A few of the more chancy late mares might get the year off but most will be covered.

At the end of the day we're in this game for the long term and breeding horses is what we do.

I believe in the stock we have here and realistically supporting the mares is all we can do in these difficult times. Each mating is carefully chosen for the mare and we believe in those matings.

There's no question that the yearling market will be down significantly this year. But these are unprecedented times and all we can do is roll with the punches and get through as best we can.

This is a great industry that has been around for hundreds of years, so I have no doubt it will recover. I do think the BHA should be actively promoting why racing needs to resume as soon as possible in the national press.

Without public support it will be hard to get going again. France and Ireland will resume soon, we need to get our message out there now like all other sports are doing.

What's your view on online sales, if they had to happen in Europe this year?

I'm very pro any advances in technology, as long as they're well thought through, tested and explained so everyone understands.

I feel as an industry we have a tendency to sit on our hands if things are ticking over all right, because that’s how we have always done things.

I strongly believe that in all areas of the industry, from horse welfare, racing and breeding to the marketing of our sport, we need to be proactive and on the front foot rather than reactive.

Online sales are the perfect example. It's been obvious for years that this is something we were going to have to embrace at some point. Arguably it should have been done by now, rather than being introduced as a reaction to Covid-19.

Do you think there will be any positives to come out of the crisis eventually?

I think there will be many positives, some more obvious than others. We have so many governing bodies and committees running our great sport that struggle to communicate with each other.

They are only interested in their small part. I would like to think this crisis might bring people together more. A more united industry can only be good.

On the breeding side I'm pleased to see studs move to electronic covering paperwork as well as completing the TBA Covid-19 protocol sheet, which logs what horses have moved where and who the driver is. As an industry we're miles behind the livestock trade on tracking the movement of our thoroughbreds.

This may seem trivial but with Brexit on the horizon we cannot expect preferential treatment from Defra or the EU as an elite industry if we cannot track the movement of our horses. We have far more advanced disease control measures but are desperately behind on the tracking of our stock.

I must also say how impressed I've been with our own TBA. Without their hard work lobbying behind the scenes during this crisis it's likely breeding in this country would have been suspended.

I would encourage all breeders to support them from now on through membership and paying the sales levy. It's only in times of crisis that we really appreciate organisations like the TBA and we owe them our support.

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

To be honest, it’s a busy time of year and really not that different from normal. I was entered to run the London Marathon, which would have been this weekend, for Racing Welfare so I've continued my training and am trying to keep fit!

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

I've almost finished Horse Trader, the book about Robert Sangster's entry into racing, which is an excellent read. TV-wise there are a number of good series on at the moment. Pip and I have enjoyed The Nest and Belgravia.

What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?

I'm looking forward to actually seeing some racing and all the big meetings happening in whatever form they take.

As far as Barton Stud-bred stock is concerned, I'm greatly looking forward to seeing Powerful Breeze run again and fingers crossed she can pick up some proper races.

There are also a number of lovely two-year-olds we sold last year who I'm looking forward to seeing run. Particularly a Siyouni colt out of Moonlit Garden who we sold for 600,000gns last year. He's in training with John Gosden.

Read our Life in Lockdown Q&As with industry figures

Ted Voute: 'We'll need to strengthen the way we showcase young stock'

Simon Kerins: 'We'll embrace any format that will help get horses sold'

Barry Lynch: 'The industry has often bounced back as quickly as it dipped'

Tim Lane: 'Working with horses does you the world of good in these times'

Jerry Horan: 'My sister butchered my haircut. I think it was payback'

Violet Hesketh and Mimi Wadham: 'Social distancing isn't hard - just lonely!'

Henry Beeby: 'Nick Nugent and I have entered a beard growing competition'

Charles O'Neill: 'ITM will be ready to go when the markets open up again'

Freddy Powell: 'We're improving our online sale platform in case it's needed'

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'


It's only in times of crisis that we really appreciate organisations like the TBA and we owe them our support
E.W. Terms