We live in extraordinary times, and it has sometimes felt surreal to be living and working in the countryside, where farming and operating a stud have continued while most of the country is in the stranglehold of lockdown.
As I wrote last month, when restrictions had been in place for a relatively short time, breeders are used to operating stringent biosecurity measures for the horses in their care, and many of the same principles apply to mitigating disease transmission in the current crisis.
It is imperative for breeders in continuing their essential operations safely to follow government instructions and the TBA Protocols for Thoroughbred Breeders, which were drawn up in consultation with the Chief Veterinary Officer. In this respect the TBA website is a vital tool. It has a dedicated Covid-19 portal, covering all aspects of the pandemic, and is updated daily to ensure that breeders have access to the very latest advice including from the government.
Whilst British racing is currently suspended and no date set for a resumption, and the sales season remains disrupted, we must be realistic in understanding that however important our sport is to us, its relevance is insignificant when judged against the daily death tolls attributable to the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.
At this stage, the risks are too great for a resumption of racing, but the time will come when the balance tilts more on the side of the reward for saving the thousands of jobs involved in breeding, racing and the servicing of our sport, and we can start again.
For breeders, testing the best horses against each other on the racecourse is the only way we can select our breeding stock of the future. The thoroughbred is initially bred to race and unless we know how good and at what level it is able to do that, we are working in the dark and remain at the risk of making decisions that have no basis in racing ability to support them.
The maxim of breeding the best to the best is so evident today, when assessing the merit of top stallions around the world, and a season that did not allow us to ascertain the best would be disastrous for the sport. So, let us hope that racing – and top-class racing – can return to Britain as soon as possible.
The racing industry is very fortunate to have, on top of the government’s many support schemes to help employers and the self-employed, the Racing Foundation, which was funded by proceeds of the sale of the Tote to Betfred, and the Levy Board, which has judiciously built up reserves in recent years against a rainy day.
Both these bodies will be able to help provide funds where genuine hardship arises and where possible to keep the basic structures in place so that racing is ready to resume just as soon as the opportunity arises. This may mean racing behind closed doors for some considerable time, but it is imperative there are funds from the Levy Board to sustain racing over this period.
None of us knows how long the situation will last but being able to continue racing while racecourses and the Levy Board have limited income must be an essential part of the Levy Board’s role.
As I said earlier, breeders have been relatively sheltered from the first shock of the lockdown measures taken to control Covid-19, although National Hunt sales have been and will continue to be lost, breeze-up sales are in jeopardy and there must be a major concern about the strength of future sales.
It is a worrying time for everyone in the industry, but the most important thing is to see this crisis through and get racing back up and running to give hope to everyone involved. Only then can we assess the overall damage the sport has suffered and how that will affect its future, along with breeding decisions to be made.
In the meantime, I wish you all well.