By Jessica Martini
The juvenile sales calendar, interrupted by the coronavirus epidemic, is scheduled to resume in three weeks with the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s Spring Sale of 2-year-Olds in Training and the OBS board met Monday to discuss the implementation of safety protocols ahead of the four-day auction. OBS held the only 2-year-olds in training sale of the year so far in March, just as the pandemic was starting to cause mass cancellations. Precautions for the Spring Sale will continue on from protocols put in place prior to the March sale, according to OBS Director of Sales Tod Wojciechowski.
“We will have a crew of people here wiping down the facility,” Wojciechowski said. “We will have door people working the doors, so people don’t have to touch anything. We will have hand sanitizing stands throughout the facility.”
Additionally for the Spring Sale, all OBS employees will be wearing masks while inside the building and everyone attending the sale will be strongly encouraged to wear face coverings as well. And social distancing efforts will be stepped up.
“We are urging people that are not here to buy horses to stay home,” Wojciechowski. “We will limit some of the rows in the auditorium to help with social distancing. Our food services will be limited to grab-and-go and seating will be limited. In high traffic areas, our employees will be behind a plexiglass barrier.”
Two weeks ago, Woodford Thoroughbreds announced new safety protocols it would implement for its Spring sale consignment. Wojciechowski said he expects to see other consignors follow suit.
“We’re sending out an email with some basic guidelines to all of the consignors,” he said. “Woodford came out with a statement about it. And I believe you will see a number of consignors doing very similar things on the grounds; helping with spacing and masks, hand sanitizing and stuff like that.”
The under-tack show for the Spring sale will be held May 31 through June 6 and the same protocols in place for the sale will be in place for the breeze show.
“We will have people wiping down common areas at the breeze show, we will ask people to socially distance, and urge people inside to wear masks,” Wojciechowski said. “We will not have communal water areas. We will have bottled water available, but we will have someone handing it out or serving it from behind a table rather than in an ice chest where people reach in to grab the water.”
Wojciechowski has fielded phone calls from potential bidders concerned about what precautions will be in place for the sale, which will be held June 9 through 12, but he feels most people have become familiar with the protocols that make up the “new normal” throughout the greater society.
“We’ve had a couple of calls from people asking if we were going to require masks or different things, not a lot, but I’ve had some people call and ask,” he said. “And rightly so. People want to know that we are going to make an effort and will try to keep them safe. We want to do all that we can, but I believe, given what we’ve all been through the last couple of months, I think people have a good viewpoint on how to handle themselves in public now. I think there are habits that have been made over the last two months that will continue on.”
People who are unable to attend the sale will have the option of online bidding and phone bidding.
“Within the next couple of days, we will have a registration page up and people can register to bid online with the live simulcast of the auction,” Wojciechowski said. “In addition to that, we have phone bidding that we always have.”
After a two-month hiatus, Wojciechowski thinks buyers and sellers are eager to get back into action.
“I think everyone is happy to get started again,” he said. “We can see what is going on in the world, everyone has a little cabin fever, and obviously the horse business is no different. I think it’s good that we see a number of the racetracks starting to reopen and race. I think people are ready for that. And I think they are ready for the sales as well.”
The TDN staff reached out to a number of buyers who have traditionally been active at the 2-year-olds in training sales to gauge their feelings ahead of the Spring sale. Their reactions follow.
My feelings about going to OBS are overshadowed by my anxiousness to get the 2-year-old sales season wrapped up, just as any other horseman in Ocala would feel, I’m sure. Of course safety is a concern, but I feel comfortable and confident going forward with my job as long as I continue adhering to the same precautions I have been for the past 60 days. The OBS sales grounds is an open space for inspecting and there are many locations to bid from without being paranoid about congestion. I would say the main precautions you’d like to see are: 1) adequate social distancing, 2) properly outfitted staff decontaminating public spaces when possible and, 3) hand sanitizer and wipes readily available. I believe if everyone respects each other’s space and acts accordingly, things should go well. It is of the utmost importance that this sale goes well and moves forward. This sale is going to be indicative of how the remaining 2-year-old sales will end up. Not to mention it has a trickle-down effect that ripples through the entire year. The yearling sales will need 2-year-old pinhookers who aren’t going to be limited from the economic strain of COVID. Then the results from those yearling sales have a large effect on how much pinhooking money comes back for the foals at the mixed sales.
I’ll start by saying I was at the OBS March sale, and under the circumstances, I thought OBS did a good job to make things as comfortable as possible for people in attendance. However, between that time and now, a lot more information has come out, including that if people simply wear masks universally, up to 80% of transmission risk is eliminated. That’s big. This proved out if you review the success at Oaklawn Park where they checked temps and wore masks daily to great success. In Kentucky, Churchill and Keeneland have taken an even greater step with universal COVID-19 testing, and it’s been very doable (24 hours or less turnaround on results) and has tremendously helped limit the possibility of horsemen populations coming from Fair Grounds, Florida, and Oaklawn into Kentucky and causing a significant COVID-19 spike. Personally, I think OBS should be a little concerned about all of us “ship-ins” coming to Marion County, which has a very low COVID caseload currently, and potentially causing a spike. So the way to deal with that is to test everyone who comes into town. It is doable, and I believe Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton will be able to pull that off for their sales. One thing is for sure, I’ll be wearing a mask around people, and wearing out the hand-sanitizer. I understand OBS won’t be doing testing, and that is their perogative. But I’d be very happy to see their staff and consignors come out and follow the Woodford Thoroughbreds plan, to have masks on everyone, temp people daily, and have hand sanitizer around everywhere. The OBS layout allows people to bid on horses comfortably enough, and avoid being around others. I’m looking forward to going to the sale, but I sure hope that OBS and the consignors work hard to make it a comfortable place to be.
I am going. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ve talked to Eddie Woods and Barry Eisaman today and I think all the protocols are appropriate, they’re fair, and I’m going down with confidence in regards to my health. I have clients from California who are coming in from the sale, and from all different regions of the country. Nobody feels in danger. I’m going with confidence. All winter and even this weekend, we’ve been going to the races at Gulfstream. I’ve sat in the car, but my wife and her people go in, and everybody is careful. We’ve all been tested when we got her to Churchill and we’re all COVID-free. OBS will have hand sanitizers, social distancing, wearing a mask. Really, only on sales days is when it gets crowded, and typically, they have a lot of people just looking, and they usually have school kids coming to check it out, but that won’t happen this year, so it should be less crowded. I just think we have to be smart, listen to what everyone says to do, and we don’t need to be standing on top of each other. But we’re ready to get back to work. We’re going to go, and support the industry, and my clients are as well.
I’m going to go. I think, for me, it comes down to the fact that I need to be responsible for myself. We’ve had a little practice at this for a couple of months, anyway. I’ll be wearing a mask, but that has nothing to do with OBS specifically; I do that everywhere. I think being responsible for ourselves would be the best start. OBS is obviously trying, but we still all need to be conscious and do the right thing.
Our experience in the Northeast is different than it is in Marion County. Until you see someone in your neighborhood sick and see people dying, that’s understandable. What we’ve seen is that business conferences have been a source of spread. I have 32 horses catalogued, so it’s important to me that people come and feel safe, and OBS has a large plant. The workers at my consignment will be wearing masks. I think that’s important. We’re going to try to limit our interactions in a way that in the past would have seemed inconceivable. I think that the good news at the barns is that we can call out horses to bring out without having to get too close to anyone. Obviously, as you get closer to the sales ring, it’s more difficult. We’ll have a lot more online bidding, and telephone bidding, and that will be great, too. The reality of the sales, even though we see a lot of people there, is that a few dozen agents and trainers do the bulk of the purchasing. It’s as much about making that group comfortable as anything else. I will be there. It will be my first trip out of New York. I have been thinking of travel strategies and doing research about the safety of air travel rather than car. Research suggests air travel is safer than you think as long as you wear a mask and don’t have someone sitting right next to you. Our guys have been working in our barn for the last two months with masks and gloves. I think OBS is on the right track. We’ve seen conditions improve so quickly in the last two, three weeks, and so I hope they’ll keep on in that direction.
At the moment, I personally take the situation very seriously and I’ve been staying home since my return from OBS March. I have made no decision yet about traveling in the near future. Florida is one of the states that is still in red alert. Obviously, Ocala is far away from Miami, but I have made no decision at this stage. I feel like we’ve done the right thing staying at home so far and what is another two or three weeks to make sure we get it right. It’s a very difficult situation for all parties involved, but I think the health issue is very serious and we need to be very careful.
[Are your Japanese clients planning on being active at the sale?]
Usually with the 2-year-olds we buy to go to Japan, we buy earlier. Now it is getting late to travel to Japan because by the time you ship the horses out of the U.S., they would not be able to ship before mid-July, which is the peak of the heat. It’s not a good time to travel. So the number of horses being bought will probably not be as many as we would have been buying. Other clients are very much still confined at home because the issue with the coronavirus is not resolved. So a lot of people are still under confinement.
If we are interested in a horse we can always work with people on the ground who live there.
[Would you bid online?]
Depends on who has seen the horses for us beforehand.
I think whatever the people at OBS think we need to do to be safe and to get up and running is what we have to do. I have no reservations about going there. I am going there to buy horses. I think our country has played defense long enough. I feel horrible for the people who have passed, but I think there are inherent risks in everything in life. This isn’t the first time that we’ve had a bad health situation–some of them before I was born–and it won’t be the last.
[Will you wear a mask?]
The only time I won’t wear a mask is if I forget it somewhere. But yeh. I will wear a mask.
It’s a question that I’ve asked myself numerous times over the course of the last few weeks. I’m both a seller and a buyer, so I am wondering the same thing about others who are in the same position, whether buyers, sellers or both, what’s going to be an individual’s level of comfort? It’s a very fluid situation. On a daily basis, we’re starting to see changes in people’s take on what the situation is relative to the safety of being outside. I think we’re really starting to see more and more as things start to open up that maybe there’s less risk with travel and the idea of being out in public, while at the same time recognizing that it’s prudent and smart and obvious to take precautions. I think and hope that OBS will do their part to create an environment with proper protocols in place to make things as safe as possible. I fully intend to make the trip to OBS, to be there for the breeze show and to participate in the same way I would as though this never happened. That’s part of my job and I believe with what we’re seeing, it’s a very reasonable expectation that those of us that will be there will be just as safe as we can be without any additional risks or concerns.
I don’t wear a mask and I don’t wear gloves around town right now. Unless I am told I have to wear one, I don’t. So if I am outside, I definitely don’t plan on wearing a mask and if I were to be inside in a large crowd, I probably would. As far as I am concerned, if I am outside looking at horses or even inside, I would probably try to keep my distance a little bit from people. But I am not as concerned as the rest of the world about this right now. I think a hat is more important than a mask. I am more worried about the sun than I am the virus.