'We're in limbo and it's all very worrying' - concern over breeze-up sales
John Cullinan on what the future might hold this year
All the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is a huge worry to everyone – we've a lot of money at stake and a lot of hard work has gone into the stock since last autumn.
Tattersalls has deferred its Ascot and Craven sales to the Guineas slot, while no decision has been made about the Doncaster breeze-up sale – a decision is due on March 30.
The lack of racing doesn't help either; we're in limbo and it's all very worrying – consignors are preparing their horses to the current sales dates, but at the back of our mind is the worry that those sales may not happen.
The uncertainty is making life very difficult. What will demand be like should we get to the point where we're taking horses to a sale? There are a lot of worries, as I'm sure there are for every sector in the current climate.
A lot of conversation is ongoing with consignors and sales companies, and there's general acceptance and realisation that the breeze-up sector is very important to the overall health of the bloodstock market.
We bought 900-odd yearlings of last year's crop - a considerable proportion of the yearlings available - and a lot was spent on them by consignors.
This will be a problem in the autumn if breeze-up consignors were to suffer losses, and the impact would be felt in the domestic yearling trade.
It has implications for the wider industry, and that should be taken on board in how to deal with it.
Each consignor will be making their own plans, but at the moment Tattersalls have commissioned videos of the catalogued horses for both the Ascot and Craven sales, and they'll be shown in hand and cantering.
Filming started this week in Britain and Ireland, and these videos will be uploaded and made available to potential customers in advance of the sale.
We've also been in discussion with Tattersalls regarding providing additional information to possibly make life easier for vendors who potentially cannot attend the sale.
Radical thinking is needed, and I think that realisation is dawning on people.
Discussions on online bidding and transmitting of videos earlier, and creating a time lapse between the breeze and the sale to facilitate this, have all taken place, though no final decisions have been made.
Given the circumstances, we'll have to look at all options of trying to get theses horses to a sale. It is possible to sell a few privately, but the reality is the majority of them will have to go through a sales ring of some description.
Hopefully that's something that can happen within the existing sales structure, but we'll have to look at what we can do to make it possible for people to buy at these sales without necessarily being in attendance.
Agents and buyers' representatives will need to see these horses, be it at home before they leave or at the sale, but not every potential owner might necessarily be present. We're in unknown territory.
Provisional breeze-up sales calendar 2020
Goffs UK April 22-23 (decision due on March 30)
Tattersalls Ascot April 29-May 1 in Newmarket (from March 31-April 1)
Tattersalls Craven April 29-May 1 in Newmarket (from April 13-15)
Arqana May 8-9
Osarus May 12-13 (from April 8-9)
Tattersalls Ireland Goresbridge May 22
Tattersalls Guineas May 27-29 (from April 29-May 1)
*All dates subject to change
All the breezes are filmed and recorded each year and are then uploaded to enable people to repeatedly view them between the breeze and the sale. However, this can sometimes be transmitted quite late and create delays for some people overseas in different time zones.
We've been in discussion with sales companies to try to upload these videos quicker, and maybe increase the time between the breeze and the sale, but none of that is finalised yet.
The pre-breezing videos which they've started filming this week is an additional facility which we feel might help generate a bit of interest earlier, rather than waiting until the day of the breeze, though that will be filmed too.
The continuation of racing in Ireland, albeit with restrictions, is very welcome. There may come a point when it comes under threat but we've seen the willingness of the government to help some industries, so hopefully that continues for horseracing.
Blanket decisions regarding the movement of horses would definitely not be welcome, however I'm sure the movement of horses could be facilitated if discussion with the industry took place, as it's been with racing and HRI. It would be very difficult to have a sale whereby movement is restricted; what's to happen to horses after they've been through the ring?
The decision by Tattersalls to move the sales was welcomed because it allowed consignors to curtail preparations to suit a later date. We understand how uncertain things are for sales companies, and you can be sure they're in contact with vendors, potential buyers and racing authorities. I don't envy their job either.
We're the first sector of the bloodstock industry to be affected by all this, but it would also have knock-on effects on the autumn yearling and breeding-stock sales. It's just unfortunate we're the first sector to have to deal with the onslaught of this disease. We've seen in America that sales have been cancelled or postponed.
The reality is that the quality of horses in the breeze-up sector has been improving year on year, and expenditure on the sector reflects this. Success on the track is testament to the good job the breeze-up sector is doing in buying and preparing horses.
The longevity and soundness, as well as the ability, of breeze-up horses is now undisputed, and we hope the market recognises this.
The perception can be that breeze-up horses are two-year-old types only, but that is very far from the truth. They have proven to last for many years, and been perfectly sound in doing so.
Two of the leading candidates for the Kentucky Derby this year are breeze-up graduates in Ete Indien and Mr Monomoy. Trip To Paris won the Ascot Gold Cup and The Grey Gatsby won the French Derby, while the likes of Teppal, Le Brivido, Brando and Quiet Reflection have also shone light on breeze-up sales.
The situation is changing by the day and this disease is very serious for all families and multiple sectors of business, and the government will do what it has to do to minimise its impact.
Our main hope is that countries get a proper handle on this disease and we start to see some reduction in the number of cases, and therefore some light at the end of the tunnel. That would be the best outcome, and would give an indication that life will start coming back to normal. But that doesn't look imminent at the moment.
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