By Emma Berry
DONCASTER, UK—It's crunch time for the European yearling market, with both Ireland's and Britain's major auctions being staged in the next fortnight. The major obvious difference is the relocation of the Orby Sale, which takes place over the next two days, to Doncaster. An expected difference, however, is a reduction in trade from some of the boom years the bloodstock market has enjoyed since the recovery from the major recession of 2008.
Considering the unprecedented backdrop to the sales calendar of 2020, the breeze-up sector and the early yearling sales have held up reasonably well, and it is of vital importance that the Orby Sale, the flagship auction of the Goffs calendar and one which has thrived of late, continues that trend.
It is fair to say that the mood on the sales ground at Doncaster settles somewhere between weary resignation that this year has been so trying in myriad ways, and a cautious optimism thanks to an increase in footfall on Tuesday as more trainers arrived in Doncaster. What is unwavering is the praise from a range of participants for the Goffs team, which took decisive action to wrest the sale from its natural home of Kildare and has pulled out plenty of stops to ensure as pleasant experience as possible even under the ever-increasing restrictions being imposed on the public amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
International participation is crucial to the yearling market at this level and while it is impossible for the full range of potential overseas buyers to be present this year, vendors will have felt heartened to see several familiar faces from America in South Yorkshire over the last few days, including Justin Casse and Ben McElroy.
“I actually left Keeneland early so I could quarantine in Ireland before I came here,” said Casse, who is visiting Doncaster for the first time. “There are some horses that I am involved with in training in Ireland, so I got to spend a week watching them and looking at a few foals and yearlings, and horses I own, then I came over here on Sunday.”
He continued, “It's nice to get out, because by this time of the year usually I'd have made six trips across the Atlantic. It's good for the mind to be out doing something. I don't think anyone is going to be shell-shocked by what the market does. We're all bracing ourselves for impact, so to speak. I don't know how many Americans are coming over but I've done my best to let those who might be interested know that I'm here. I've found the sales grounds very accommodating and very easy to navigate. There's plenty of space and I've gotten through the horses quickly.”
Casse will not be alone in longing for a return to normal for next year's sales programme. He added, “This is an important sale for Ireland and I look forward to getting back there. I love Ireland and I like the sales grounds and the hospitality but this is a more than acceptable alternative.”
Plenty of the Irish vendors on the sales ground this week are also operating at Doncaster for the first time and have had to employ some quick thinking to organise transport and accommodation for the horses and staff. The Irish National Stud, with its draft of 12 yearlings, including representatives of the stud's first-season sires Decorated Knight (GB) and National Defense (Ire), is one such consignor.
“We are used to going just 20 minutes down the road to get to Goffs so this has been a huge logistical effort to get the horses here, but the alternative was no sale at all,” said Irish National Stud CEO Cathal Beale.
“Credit to everyone for putting it on. The traffic to the doors has been fantastic and there seems to be quite a buzz about the place today so we are cautiously optimistic of a good sale. Goffs have gone to huge trouble and the sales complex is excellent.”
A giant marquee to the side of the sales ring is just one new feature at the Goffs UK sales complex this week, and it is one that will certainly come into its own as Tuesday's warm sunshine gives way to the forecasted rain. Certainly the good weather so far this week has helped to keep spirits high among vendors, and Peter Fagan of Deerpark Stud was another who fulsome in his praise of the sales house.
He said, “It hasn't been an easy season for anyone but Goffs has done an excellent job to get this on. They've made a huge effort.”
The Goffs complex in Kildare would usually be awash with Irish trainers and, at a time of year which is equally busy on the racing front, a number of them have made the trip to the UK, including Jessica Harrington, Joseph O'Brien, Michael Halford and Andy Oliver. No travel, even across the Irish Sea is without its complications at present.
With governments across Europe now frequently tweaking rules and restrictions as the coronavirus infection rate rises to levels previously seen in the early days of lockdown, it surely can't be taken for granted that the 2020 sales season will continue without further disruption. For the time being, a couple of days in sunny Donny will be appreciated all the more by those who are just grateful that the wheels of the industry are able to keep turning, even if, as expected, it transpires to be at a reduced rate.