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Horse Racing braces for virus impact on sales

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Goffs is Ireland’s leading bloodstock auction house and has described the sales climate as a crisis. AFP

Horse Racing braces for virus impact on sales

Racing needs to “keep calm and carry on” in the middle of the greatest crisis the industry has faced, according to Henry Beeby, group chief executive of leading auction house Goffs.

The rallying call from Beeby comes ahead of its premier yearling sale, the Orby, which will take place at the company’s sales complex in Doncaster, northern England, rather than at its traditional home in Ireland – a decision he describes as “monumental”.

Goffs and leading rivals Tattersalls, who hold two major yearling sales in October, totalled more than £200 million ($258 million) over the three sales last year.

However, this year’s auctions come after worrying predictions from other leading voices in the sport, which is suffering badly from the coronavirus fallout.

Ralph Beckett, who is due to take up his role as president of the National Trainers Federation in January, fears 10 percent of the 500 licensed trainers in Britain will hand in their licences.

The British Horseracing Authority has predicted racecourses will lose £250 million-£300 million this year due to the ban on spectators.

Such losses filter through to lower prizemoney and act as a deterrent to those toying with the idea of buying horses.

While English racing is widely regarded as the best in Europe, the prizemoney has always been a problem when compared to the costly training fees.

It is easier for owners to recoup training fees in Ireland and France, where there is better prizemoney.

Beeby confesses he is always worried ahead of the sales but this year more than any other it is about helping each other.

“It is like what it says on the mug – ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ and help others,” he told AFP, referring to the wartime slogan.

“Really it is about putting your arm around your neighbour – metaphorically speaking of course due to social distancing – and helping them.

“I have been talking to my Tattersalls counterpart Edmond Mahony nearly as much as to my colleagues.”

Beeby says barring spectators from racecourses is bound to have an impact.

“Undoubtedly it is going to be difficult to attract some people to invest,” he said. “It is hard for trainers or agents to promote buying horses when you cannot go racing.

“The metric rate is clearance rate. As a trade it is to get out and get out as unscathed as possible. It really is just getting to the other side safely.”

‘Perfect storm’

Leading Irish vendor Harry McCalmont, who is selling 16 yearlings at Tattersalls, said he would be happy if his Norelands Stud emerged 25-30 per cent down on last year’s total turnover.

“We (as an industry) are selling very expensive toys to rich boys and uncertainty is the worst thing, the one thing people hate,” he said.

“The combined uncertainty of Covid and Brexit is the perfect storm.

“On the other hand, there is a lot of disposable income out there and horses are an attraction for that.”

A feature of the sales so far has been Dubai heavy hitters Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his brother Sheikh Hamdan spending a lot less than usual.

David Redvers, Qatar Racing’s manager, says this has meant the top end of the market has suffered.

“What’s been fascinating so far at the sales, particularly in Britain, is the lower end of the market has been remarkably resilient,” he said.

“Trainers have been willing to buy horses on spec at around £40,000. Before, it would have been £100,000 but these days there is less chance of finding an owner at that price.”

Jimmy George, marketing director of Tattersalls, says those attending the sales will notice changes such as that only 100 masked people are allowed into the sales ring.

However, he is hoping the steadiness of trade at sales so far this year far bodes well for October.

“By and large they have held up remarkably well under the circumstances but they are down on last year and you would not expect otherwise,” he said.

“The market is not immune to the outside world.”

Redvers believes it will be a buyers’ market, which is good and bad news for him as Qatar Racing are also selling.

“What the good Lord gives with one hand he takes away with the other,” he said.

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