Breeze-Ups Back On At Last

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Photo courtesy Goffs UK

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Europe’s belated breeze-up season at last gets underway on Thursday in Newmarket, with the combined Tattersalls Craven and Ascot Breeze-Up Sales (for which the breeze took place on Monday) setting the scene ahead of the joint Goffs UK and Arqana Breeze-Up in Doncaster six days later on July 1. Osarus staged its juvenile sale online on May 27, but these will be the continent’s first live, in-person (and, crucially, in-horse) bloodstock sales since the world was brought to a standstill by COVID-19 in mid-March. The Tattersalls Guineas Breeze-Up Sale will be staged on July 8, and the Tattersalls Ireland Goresbridge Breeze-Up brings the curtain down on July 24.

The world effectively went into lockdown on the eve of Tattersalls’s planned Ascot Breeze-Up Sale in early April, and a revisit of the timeline of events surrounding the rejigging of the sector’s calendar shows just how swiftly, completely and unexpectedly COVID-19 tightened its grip. Tattersalls quickly moved to combine its Ascot and Craven sales, and those have endured no fewer than four date changes to accommodate lockdown and national health protocols as well as the racing calendar and other sales. Goffs UK and Arqana officially announced their partnership on Apr. 18 with the sale slated for Ireland, but the latest amendment on June 4 saw the sale moved to Doncaster to allow vendors and purchasers to take in the Tattersalls breeze ups and the Goffs UK/Arqana breeze ups in one country, breezes included, within the space of 10 days and avoid the risks and quarantines required for moving between countries.

Through all the headaches of the past three-plus months, the key principals of the breeze-up sector have largely set aside their personal agendas and admirably worked together to put in place a plan expected to work best for the industry as a whole. Tim Kent, managing director of Goffs UK, recalled how seamlessly the collaboration with Arqana came about.

“We came to the conclusion that it made sense to try to work together,” Kent said. “It was a conversation that I had with Nick Nugent and Henry Beeby; the three of us were talking and said, ‘maybe we should think about combining with Arqana.’ I know that Henry then put in a call to Eric Hoyeau in Arqana and when Henry suggested it to Eric, Eric started laughing and said, ‘funny, because Freddy [Powell] and I were talking about the exact same thing this morning.'”

Freddy Powell said the decision was “a bit of a no-brainer” for Arqana.

“We had 165 horses catalogued and 132 of them were based in Ireland,” he said. “At the time when we started talking [with Goffs UK] it was obvious that Ireland was the place to go because the horses were there and the pandemic was not as bad in Ireland as it was in England, but we were not expecting the Irish authorities to be as strict on quarantine as what happened later in the spring. Now that we know that most of the buyers are based in England and they’d have to quarantine when they got home from traveling anywhere in Europe, it made more sense to do it in England. And we thought it was fair to vendors and buyers to be in the same country as Tattersalls so people didn’t have to travel as much. It was pretty simple in the end because everyone wanted to work for the benefit of the industry in general. We all had the same goals.”

At the joint Goffs UK and Arqana Breeze-Up, the Goffs UK 2-year-olds are catalogued as lots one through 165, and the Arqana horses 200 through 365. They will all breeze at Doncaster on June 28 and, after two inspection days meant to allow buying parties more time to coordinate and to spread out on the sales grounds, they will all go through the ring on July 1. Tattersalls has adopted the same spacing between its breeze and sale.

“The Goffs and Arqana teams were looking for the same things, and so far it’s worked out really well,” Kent said. “We’ve come together to put together a platform and we think in a way that we’ll be better together. Someone said to me the other day that it’s kind of like the Kelloggs advert-the original and the best. The Doncaster Sale was the first one in Europe so that’s the original sale and we’ve had great success on the track. Arguably the best breeze-up sale in Europe last year was the Arqana sale, and they’ve had a huge amount of success with horses like War Of Will and Channel (Ire). Hopefully it’s a good marriage; the original and the best.”

Powell concurred. “It will be fantastic on July 1 that potential buyers will have the choice between our more two-turn horses that we are usually selling at Arqana, as well as the sharp 2-year-olds that are usually sold at Doncaster,” he said. “Normally you’d have to go to two different places to see those horses, and now they’re all in the same place.”

Goffs UK and Arqana also worked closely with Tattersalls in coordinating sale dates and health protocols to ensure a seamless transition between sales.

“We’ve all been put in very similar situations and I think above all we’ve been acutely conscious that the consignors have been put in a horrible situation from the outset,” said Tattersalls Marketing Director Jimmy George. “They have big investments tied up in these 2-year-olds and to find your well thought out business plan completely undermined by events completely outside your control is unsettling at the very least. All the sales companies were very conscious of our responsibilities to our own businesses, but equally to the people that make our businesses, and that’s the consignors on the one hand, and also to stage sales that work for the purchasers. We’ve been working closely and trying our best to accommodate all concerned and I think that’s reflected well on everybody in the industry. It’s not just been Anglo-Irish cooperation; we’ve been working very closely with our French counterparts as well to make sure everybody gets a fair crack of the whip.”

“We’re no different to so many other businesses throughout the world in the last few months,” George reflected. “Everything we’ve all been used to and the conventional approach to everything went flying out the window with the spread of the pandemic, and it was pretty well on the eve of what would have been our breeze-up sale season. It fairly quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to stage those sales, either the Ascot Breeze-Up Sale or the Craven Breeze-Up Sale, either in a conventional manner or on their original calendar dates. We had to move fairly quickly on that, but I don’t think we realized quite how dramatic the changes would have to be, and I don’t think we’re alone in that; I think the world was taken by surprise and we were no exception.

In addition to greater spacing between the breezes and sales, Goffs UK/Arqana and Tattersalls will adopt precautions including limiting sale attendees to pre-registered vendors and buyers and mandatory health questionnaires, medical forms and temperature checks. Social distancing on the sales grounds and the use of PPE like face masks and gloves will be enforced, and hand sanitzer will be readily available throughout the sales grounds.

For those who are unable or choose not to attend the sales, online bidding and phone bidding will be available for all sales. For Goffs UK/Arqana, the Goffs UK platform will be used for the entire sale.

“We have a new online bidding system that we’ve trialled extensively and it seems to work very well,” Kent said. “There will also be a large team from both Goffs and Arqana and we’re very willing to take telephone bids on the day. You don’t have to be in attendance to participate in the sale. We’re also going to be weighing and measuring the height of each horse prior to their breeze and that will be displayed on our website. People can get more information than they normally would from the website. We won’t be doing official times but we will be able to provide times to people who want them. Anyone who is registered with us and needs more information along those lines, we can provide that. For people that can’t attend the sale, we can also put them in touch with vets and agents who might be able to assist them. We’re hopeful that the two viewing days, which is something we’ve never had before, will enable all purchasers, whether that’s owners, agents or trainers, enough time to get all the information they need to be able to participate in the sale.”

“One of the things we have had to do is explore as many avenues as possible to make it easy for buyers to participate at sales in the event that they’re unable to attend in person,” George added. “That’s something that we at Tattersalls have worked hard on, to get the technology up and running for the Craven and Ascot Sale. Live internet bidding will be a part of all Tattersalls sales from hereon in starting with the Craven and Ascot Breeze-Up Sale and we’ll also have phone bidding very much available to purchasers who are unable to attend. We’re conscious we need to pull out all the stops to make the sales accessible.”

Kent was outspoken in his praise of the vendors and buyers in their role in coming up with a workable solution for the sales calendar.

“The vendors and purchasers have all been really keen to do everything they can to ensure we can put the sale on,” he said. “We’ve certainly had plenty of opinions from vendors about what we should or shouldn’t be doing, but they’ve all been really constructive with their views. It’s been very much a team effort between the vendors, the purchasers and ourselves to try to find the best way to sell these horses.

“Everyone wants [the sale] to happen, needs it to happen, and everyone has been doing what they can to make it happen. Let’s be honest, it’s not perfect; the perfect solution was the original sale, which [should have been] two months ago. It’s not perfect but we’re very much trying to do what’s best for everyone and hopefully this provides a solution that suits the vast majority.”

At the end of the day, it is unlikely that anyone is expecting superlatives to be attached to these sales, given the state of the global economy, but Kent said a good result would be a satisfactory clearance rate; for the breeze-up vendors to move this crop along and be in a position to re-invest at the yearling sales.

“No one is predicting we’re going to match last year’s statistics; that would be naivety in the extreme to think like that,” he said. “I think a critical thing for us will be clearance rate–I think people need to get horses sold. These guys need to get some liquidity back in to pay the bills, so if we can get horses sold that’ll be a big success for us. I think if it feels like it’s a successful sale, if horses are getting sold and vendors are happy, we’ll be happy. And we’ll be even happier when they go and prove themselves on the track.”

George noted that the mood at HQ has noticeably soared since the resumption of racing.

“Being based in Newmarket and surrounded by 70-odd trainers and people who are professionally engaged in the sport, it was remarkable to see that perceptible lift in spirits when the starting stalls clattered open for the first time since March,” he said. “To have racing back in Britain, Ireland and France-albeit behind closed doors-is the tonic the industry needed. We’ve already enjoyed some fantastic racing and we’re looking forward to plenty more. We’re back up and running, albeit slightly differently, but there’s more of a feeling of optimism around everywhere.”

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