The races must “keep calm and carry on” amid the biggest crisis the industry has faced, according to Henry Beeby, group general manager of leading auction house Goffs.
Beeby’s rallying call comes ahead of his first yearling sale, the Orby, which will take place at the company’s sales complex in Doncaster, northern England, rather than his traditional home in Ireland – a decision he describes as “monumental”.
Goffs and his main rivals Tattersalls, who hold two major yearling sales in October, totaled more than £ 200million ($ 258million) in three sales last year.
However, this year’s auctions follow disturbing predictions from other leading voices in the sport, who are gravely suffering from the coronavirus fallout.
Ralph Beckett, who is due to take office as president of the National Trainers Federation in January, fears 10% of Britain’s 500 licensed trainers will surrender their licenses.
The British Horseracing Authority has predicted that racetracks will lose between £ 250m and £ 300m this year due to the spectator ban.
Such losses filter down to lower prices and act as a deterrent for those who play with the idea of buying horses.
While English races are widely regarded as the best in Europe, prize money has always been a problem compared to expensive training fees.
It is easier for owners to recoup training costs in Ireland and France, where there are better prices.
Beeby admits he’s always worried before sales, but this year more than any other it’s all about helping each other.
“It’s like what it says on the mug – ‘Keep calm and carry on’ and help others, ‘he told AFP, referring to the war slogan.
“It’s really about putting your arm around your neighbor – metaphorically speaking of course because of social distancing – and helping them.
“I spoke to my Tattersalls counterpart Edmond Mahony almost as much as my colleagues. ”
Beeby says excluding spectators from racetracks is bound to have an impact.
“It will undoubtedly be difficult to attract some people to invest,” he said. “It’s hard for trainers or agents to promote buying horses when you can’t race.
“The metric rate is the customs clearance rate. As a business, it’s about getting out and getting out as unharmed as possible. It’s just a matter of getting to the other side safely. ”
– ‘Perfect storm’ –
Ireland’s main seller Harry McCalmont, who sells 16 yearlings to Tattersalls, said he would be happy if his Norelands Stud got a 25-30% drop from last year’s total turnover.
“We (as an industry) sell very expensive toys to rich boys and uncertainty is the worst thing, the only 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 and horses are an attraction for that. ”
A hallmark of sales so far has been that Dubai’s heavy hitters Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his brother Sheikh Hamdan are spending much less than usual.
Qatar Racing manager David Redvers says that means the high end of the market has suffered.
“What’s been fascinating so far about sales, especially in Britain, is that the lower end of the market has been remarkably resilient,” he said.
“The trainers were prepared to buy horses on specification at around £ 40,000. Before it would have been £ 100,000, but nowadays you are less likely to find an owner at this price.
Tattersalls chief marketing officer Jimmy George says those attending the sales will notice changes such that only 100 masked people are allowed into the sales ring.
However, he hopes that the stability of trade so far this year bodes well for October.
“Overall they have held up remarkably well under the circumstances, but they are down last year and we don’t expect much,” he said.
“The market is not immune to the outside world. ”
Redvers thinks it will be a buyer’s market which is good news and bad news for him as Qatar Racing is also selling.
“What the good Lord gives with one hand, he wins with the other,” he said.
© 2020 AFP