TDN Q&A: Inglis’s Sebastian Hutch

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Sebastian Hutch | Bronwen Healy

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Within the backdrop of a pandemic that has reshaped the lives of people all over the world, the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale, kicks off Apr. 7. It will be an auction unlike any witnessed before.

A day after an announcement from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Mar. 25, further tightening restrictions on public gatherings in response to the coronavirus outbreak, officials at Inglis announced that the Easter Sale would go forward in two rounds, the first as a digital auction only, with round two to take place in conventional fashion in early July, conditions permitting.

After consultation with its clients, Inglis announced Apr. 2 that the Easter Sale would be held as a ‘virtual auction,’ with an auctioneer at the rostrum at the company’s Riverside Stables and bidding taking place online.

TDN Managing Editor Alan Carasso spoke with Sebastian Hutch, Inglis’s general manager of bloodstock sales and marketing, who took time out of his very busy schedule for a brief question-and-answer session earlier this week.

TDN: These are some of the most extreme and bizarre circumstances that you could have for a sale, let alone one of this magnitude. Such as they are, what are your expectations as the sale looms?

Sebastian Hutch: I suppose, first of all, we’re very proud of our vendors for the manner in which they’ve worked to facilitate inspections and interest in their stock under these circumstances and in terms of trying to facilitate optimum outcome, whatever that may be. I think vendors deserve a lot of credit for the work they’ve done trying to achieve that.

It’s very hard to get a gauge as to where the market will sit. I think we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the extent the sale has been embraced by parties that we might not necessarily have expected to embrace it. By the same token, a lot of money has been through the market already this year and inevitably, it’s going to place inhibitions and restrictions on people. We’re just trying to facilitate a market bearing in mind those factors.

TDN: What has been the reception among vendors in terms of the foot traffic on their farms, viewings, inspections etc.?

SH: Geographically, there are a broadly spread group of vendors outside of the traditional Hunter Valley belt. Some of those vendors–it’s just not practical to facilitate inspections. For instance, the Queensland border has restrictions placed on it, so that has effectively ruled out any Queensland vendor who’s looking to stay in Queensland. A couple of our Queensland vendors have relocated–Highgrove and KBL–but it meant that a couple of others could not participate.

Ed’s Note: Queensland borders New South Wales to the north

But under the circumstances, people–particularly agents and trainers–have been very dogged in their determination to get around and try to inspect as many horses as they can and to take advantage of what looks a good opportunity in the market. Vendors have been very accommodating in terms of parade times and adjusting traditional schedules, early in the day, late in the afternoon, and I think that’s obviously going to help the market.

TDN: You have seen a good amount of participation in years past from outside of Australia. You’ve seen the likes of John Moynihan (on behalf of Stonestreet), WinStar Farm in partnership, those sorts of buyers. What is your sense of their potential for participation this year?

SH: I think the benefit of having had a number of significant  U.S.-based investors participate in sales in Australia over the last number of years means they’ve developed relationships with people here that meant that, under these circumstances, they might be in a position to remain active even though they aren’t in the country or on the grounds. You take a number of our stallions, they have some U.S. involvement or U.S. interest– Newgate in particular springs to mind. Coolmore have always had a variety of partners and clients in the U.S., as have a number of smaller farms.

I think with the currency sitting the way it sits–the Australian dollar versus the U.S. dollar presents an opportunity to U.S. investors as it does to European investors. The quality of stock at Easter, in terms of both pedigree and conformation, is the very best that’s on offer in Australasia, effectively in the Southern Hemisphere. I can say that definitively. I think people from other parts of the world will look at a sale like this and say, ‘Australia’s got a great racing structure, it’s a tremendous spectacle.’ Even in hugely challenging times, we have managed to maintain racing, admittedly with no crowds. And when we do see the end of the ramifications of this pandemic, I think we’re all confident that the sport is going to bounce back into an extremely strong position and on that premise, the Easter Yearling Sale 2020 might look like an opportune time to accumulate stock and reap the benefits of that in subsequent years.

TDN: The Easter Sale speaks for itself in terms of its quality–it really has become a can’t-miss sale for buyers from all over the world. That certainly must inspire a fair bit of confidence from the perspective of the auction house.

SH: Absolutely. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t mixed emotions about the circumstances we find ourselves in. We are in a position to facilitate a sale like this and it appears no other jurisdiction can do that at the moment. Reading about the sales schedule in the rest of the world, there is great uncertainty about it, so the fact that we can facilitate a market is fantastic and a great opportunity for both vendors and investors under very trying circumstances.

By the same token, we set ourselves an objective 12 months ago to accumulate horses to run the best Easter Yearling Sale that we possibly could, so the people could look at it and say that it was something they needed to be participating in. The vendors responded extremely positively to that and as a consequence, we have assembled what is a pretty extraordinary group of horses.

Part of me is disappointed that we won’t be able to showcase those horses for vendors in a manner that we would in a conventional auction, but by the same token, their work in terms of getting the videos done, providing the necessary veterinary information while disclosing huge volumes of information to prospective purchasers–huge amount of transparency around the stock–means that they’re working very hard to facilitate sales. There are mixed emotions, but we’re working around it to get it done.

TDN: The Easter Sale took something of an unexpected hit when Arrowfield decided to withdraw its draft of 63 horses once it was announced that the sale was to be held digitally, or not conventionally. Can you reflect on that decision?

SH: We respect the decision they’ve made–that’s not to say we have to agree it was the right one–but we respect the decision that was made. Arrowfield for a long time have been tremendous clients of Inglis’s and I’m sure that relationship will continue into the future. They have had many successful graduates come out of the sale, but similarly, as have any number of other vendors. The quality of the stock and the sale stands firm irrespective of their involvement. Obviously they have a number of their stallions well represented in other drafts as well. Under the circumstances, I suppose it was a challenging development at the time, but we adapt and move on hopefully we achieve a positive outcome for those vendors who are still in the sale.

A test auction, including auctioneer audio and yearling videos, will be held between 2 p.m.-3 p.m. (11 p.m. ET Thursday-12 a.m. ET Friday). To register to bid, click here.

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