'The need for a crystal ball seems even more desirable now than ever'
Industry figures tell us how they are managing in self-isolation
Bloodstock agent and Newtown Stud's Cathy Grassick tells us how she 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?
From the farm side of things, life at Newtown Stud has continued pretty much as normal except from the additional health and safety measures required to keep us all safe and well.
The farm has kept us all here at Newtown Stud very busy and almost every breeder self-isolates for the foaling and breeding season so this year has not been too much different from usual.
That said as the season has drawn to a close the lack of racing has been the obvious difference especially from the bloodstock agency perspective.
The lockdown put a stop to a lot of privates sales that we were working on and the February Sales seem very far away now, although my extensive work on nominations and mating plans for my clients has continued to keep me busy. I am looking forward to a return to racing and sales in the not too distant future.
With no racing or sales in Europe at present, your scope to do business must be limited. What are you doing instead?
I actually had to have major leg reconstruction surgery at the end of the Breeding Stock Sales at the end of last year and a further operation at the end of March so a lot of my time has been spent on crutches and rehabilitation.
I am also very involved in many industry organisations such as the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Irish Thoroughbred Marketing so I have kept myself busy working on various other aspects of the industry and how we can adapt and improve it for our current reality.
Can you give us a taste of some of the well-bred foals you've been welcoming at Newtown Stud this season?
This year we have had an excellent crop of foals at Newtown Stud but there were a few standouts from a pedigree point of view.
These include a full brother to Irish 2,000 Guineas winner and Irish National Stud resident Phoenix of Spain, a Lope de Vega colt out of Lucky Clio, on behalf of Arild Faeste.
We have also had a cracking filly by Charm Spirit out of Fresnay, bred by Franca Vittadini. This filly is a half-sister to Freetown and Call me Love, winner of the Group 2 Premio Lydia Tesio who is now in training with Christophe Clement in America, on behalf of the Yoshida family.
Another blue blooded filly is the Sea The Stars filly out Lopera, a full sister to the colt foal we sold on behalf of Manfred Ostermann's Gestut Hof Ittlingen, for 400,000gns to the late and greatly missed Gerry Dilger of Dromolond Farm in 2018. He went on to realise 875,000gns last year to Godolphin when re-offered in Book 1 by Longview Stud.
Another excellent foal is a colt by Lope De Vega out of the impressive racemare Viztoria on behalf of John Lavery, who really catches the eye in the paddock.
Two of Newtown Studs own mares have also produced excellent types by way of a colt foal by Invincible Spirit ex Enjoyable, a three parts brother to top class Clive Cox trained filly Shades of Blue, from the family of Gutaifan and also a colt by Starspangledbanner ex Vera Lilley, a full brother to the smart Sheila Lavery trained filly Lil Grey.
Are you or your clients covering any fewer mares this year because of an expected downturn in the market?
I think there has been a lot of soul searching and financial planning that has gone into this year's mating plans. The difficulty with this industry is that a breeder is planning production for sale a year or two down the line with the Flat and even further with National Hunt.
The need for a crystal ball seems even more desirable now than ever. Certainly I have seen clients focusing on mating their best mares to the highest standard possible and deciding not to cover their later foaling, more commercial mares at the end of the season.
What's your view on online sales, if they had to happen in Europe this year?
I am very interested to see how online sales will work in Europe - online sales are better suited to certain types of horses than others.
The standard of the online facilities has really come a long way with the availability of high quality videos and conformation photographs along with the advances that had already started in the provision of online repositories for veterinary documentation.
Certainly in Ireland, I have seen how hard ITM and the individual breeze up consignors have been working to make advances in how to successfully market their horses in the current climate.
I can see some real difficulties with how yearling and foal sales would work successfully if they had to take place solely on the internet, as a certain amount of physical inspection would seem necessary for these purchases to achieve their full value in the marketplace.
Online sales have been working to a much greater extent in the southern hemisphere over the past few years and the Easter Sale in Inglis did go ahead online but a large amount of physical inspections had already taken place privately and continued to be arranged for purchasers before the date of the sale.
I am very hopeful that with advances in time and medicine that we may see some real improvements from the current way of life which we now find ourselves.
The North American Jockey Club livened up lockdown by announcing the 140-mare stallion cap - would you welcome a similar move in Europe?
I was very surprised to hear that this initiative was announced by the North American Jockey Club. I cannot see this being something that would be welcomed by the majority of stallion owners over here and while there are plenty of arguments both for and against, I do wonder as to whether they even have the right number to begin with.
My issue with this figure is that you will see the best stallions quickly become out of reach and unobtainable to the smaller breeder and become exclusive to those who can pay the highest fee or who have the creme de la creme of the broodmare crop.
In this current climate of economic uncertainty one would hope to see more sensibly priced stud fees and I think this cap will have the opposite effect on many successful stallions.
What's your best guess on what will happen to the market this year, and how long it will take to recover?
It's impossible not to see how the market will not drop back this year given the pressure the economies of the world have been under but the one thing that always holds true is that it will still be hard to operate at the top end of the market.
The top quality stock always seem to hold their value even in difficult times in the bloodstock market. I am quietly confident that the return of racing will encourage potential purchasers and investors in the industry to renew their interest and I am hopeful that this will see a stronger market than was first feared with the postponement of racing.
It is a big boost to the entire industry to have racing return in England and Ireland.
Do you think there will be any positives to come out of the crisis eventually?
I have been so impressed to see the way in which the whole industry in both the UK and Ireland have banded together to work to bring racing back and to support each other through these unusual times.
I think there has been the dawning of realisation amongst politicians and the public that racing is not just a sport but is in fact a part of a successful bloodstock industry that provides employment and investment into rural communities and this can only be good for the future of the industry as a whole.
It has also been wonderful to see other initiatives such as Racing Welfare's Search for a Star inspiring the industry to raise funds for those struggling during lockdown and in other potentially difficult circumstances.
Any film, TV or book recommendations to share to get through quarantine?
I have to thank my brother for sending me a copy of Margaret Atwood's The Testaments, which I really enjoyed as she is one of my favourite authors. I am also currently enjoying reading Sally Rooney's Normal People, I have not yet started watching the series but I can highly recommend the book.
I was reluctantly encouraged to watch the Last Dance on Netflix, about Michael Jordan, which actually turned out to be a real find.
What are you most looking forward to when racing returns?
I am really looking forward to racing returning as it has been really hard missing out on all of the first-season sires runners and the Classic trials that are usually on before now.
I have been contenting myself with watching racing from France and Germany in the meantime and I am really pleased to see the great start for Goken and the successful start to the year for our friends at Gestut Gorlsdorf.
In the coming weeks I am very excited to see how Yvonne Jacques filly Stylistique (Dansili) steps up to her three-year-old career as well as my purchases for Mark Dobbin with Joseph O'Brien - promising maiden winner Brook On Fifth and CL Weld winner New York Girl. T
There is also hopefully more to come from Newtown Stud graduates Lil Grey and Shades of Blue. This is all before we get to see any of the two-year-olds that were bought by Brian Grassick Bloodstock or sold by Newtown Stud in action.
I have high hopes for some of these but for the moment I am keeping my cards close to my chest!
Read more Life in Lockdown Q&As with industry figures