Canadian Sellers Face Unique Challenges In COVID-19 Auction Environment

Few branches of the horse racing industry exist that don’t expect some form of travel, and the COVID-19 pandemic has put a unique stress on that vital component of the business.

COVID-19 travel and quarantine restrictions have made interstate travel difficult, as highlighted by the requirement that out-of-state riders in the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby arrive by Aug. 31. International travel has proven to be an even greater task, but a handful of Canadian consignors have crossed the border to sell horses during the September yearling sales, ready for all the hoop-jumping it entails.

David Anderson of the St. Thomas, Ontario-based Anderson Farms said getting into the U.S. is the easy part, it’s what happens when he returns home that will pose the biggest challenge.

“As of right now, there’s no requirements to quarantine in Kentucky,” he said before the yearling sale season. “We’ve been very fortunate in Canada, and particularly in Ontario, we took some early measures to shut things down, and our positive coronavirus cases are down to 30 or 40 a day. It’s virtually nothing.

“Unfortunately, when I come back to Canada, I’m going to have to endure a 14-day quarantine, but that’s fine, as long as I can get to Kentucky,” Anderson continued. “That’s my main focus right now.”

Anderson had two horses cataloged in the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Showcase, and he’ll have 12 cataloged throughout the marathon Keeneland September Yearling Sale. His horses shipped to Kentucky in June for sale prep, and he said the process of shipping horses back and forth over the border has not changed drastically this year, compared with getting himself from place to place.

Bernard McCormack of Cara Bloodstock in Janetville, Ontario also had a pair of yearlings entered in the Fasig-Tipton sale, and 15 more in the book for Keeneland.

McCormack was able to dip a toe into the 2020 yearling market during the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society (Ontario Division) Canadian Premier Yearling Sale on Sept. 2, where he handled the $90,000 (Canadian) sale-topper.

He said the Ontario sale did not require a negative COVID-19 test to attend like the Kentucky sales. Instead, organizers conducted temperature checks and had participants fill out questionnaires. Once people were on the grounds, seating was spaced apart and limited in the pavilion, and security guards were placed at the entrances and exits to ensure the headcount remained under the limit.

“There were a lot of variables, but it all went well from my perspective,” McCormack said. “The buyers were very careful, and as a consignor, you want to talk to your buyers and that was all very possible with distance and having a mask on. You can still tell a joke with a mask on.

“We had a sanitizing station where the vet book was, and I basically held on to the book more than I do in the past,” he continued. “I pretty much kept it with me so I could keep the book myself, and not have to pick up a book that 50 people have been turning the pages on.”

Though the Ontario sale provided a useful dry run for the September sales, it also pulled the curtain back on a sobering reality of the North American auction market for the foreseeable future – Not all Canadian buyers are going to want to spend two weeks on the sidelines to buy horses in-person in the U.S., especially during one of the busiest times of the year on an already condensed Woodbine stakes calendar.

McCormack said he noticed a few extra bids coming in for the top lots of the Ontario sale, courtesy of horsemen who might recognize this will be their only opportunity to secure yearlings in-person at auction this year.

In absence of some of the main principals and trainers that make up the Canadian buying bench at Kentucky sales, McCormack said he was utilizing every option at his disposal to bring the horses to those buyers, as well as their agents, whose role will be more important than ever.

McCormack noted that many of the major barns at Woodbine winter in Florida after the Ontario meet closes, and they have developed relationships with bloodstock agents in both locations. Whether they’re coming from the north or the south, the key players should be able to have eyes and ears on the sales grounds, which makes providing the proper information to them crucial.

“I have mostly Canadian-breds selling in both sales,” he said. “You have the videos done, and of course, there’s always contacts that you can reach out to get information to. I know a few Canadian agents that are going down, and I’ve encouraged them to reach out, and if they want to see them on the farms and cut their trips a little shorter because of commitments back home, we’ll work with them if that’s what’s required.”

When it comes to employees on the sales grounds, McCormack and Anderson both said they decided against bringing down any grooms, showpeople, or other staff that make their consignments run from Canada, instead hiring locally in Kentucky.

“We’ve got some new staff that have not worked for us be- fore,” Anderson said. “Certainly, they come highly recommended. You’d like to have the same people year-in and year-out, but we’re going to roll with the punches and hope for the best.”

Like the horsemen at Woodbine, the two consignors said the 14-day quarantine upon returning to Canada was too big of an ask for barn help in the U.S. sales.

Anderson said Canada has been proactive with contact tracing throughout the pandemic, which can be restrictive on day- to-day movement if a citizen is supposed to be in quarantine. However, he and McCormack both said they were fortunate to have their farms for quarantine boundaries, allowing them to get outside and continue their work relatively uninterrupted.

“You literally are supposed to stay in your house, and if you go outside at all, you have to stay in your backyard and wear a mask,” Anderson said. “I went through this back in the spring when I went to Florida, and I had three phone calls from the government checking up on me. We now have an app in Canada called the COVID Alert app, and it tells you if you’ve been in close proximity to anyone that’s tested positive for the virus. It will alert you, and then you should immediately go into quarantine because of it.”

The two weeks on the bench has become part of the norm for McCormack, who has crossed the border repeatedly to transport mares between Ontario and Kentucky for breeding.

“I’ve done it six times this year, just shipping breeding stock,” he said. “I’ve never felt more thankful for having a farm because it’s a natural bubble. My wife can do the banking and the other bits and pieces that can be done running around. I think one of my cars, I filled it up at the end of April and didn’t have to fill it up again until the middle of June. I was just driving my truck back and forth to Kentucky.”

Both consignors will be back in Kentucky for the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale in late October, and the Breeders’ Cup will be just down the road at Keeneland shortly after, followed by the November mixed sales running through the middle of the month. Between the necessity of selling horses and the challenges posed from re-entering the country, playing the long game in Kentucky for the fall is the likely plan for the horsemen from up north.

“Right now, I plan on staying,” Anderson said. “I just booked my hotel for right before the October sale through the end of the November sale. I’m booked in for probably four weeks. I’m just going to stay down. I spend the better part of 90 to 100 nights in Lexington anyway. It’s almost like my second home.”

The post Canadian Sellers Face Unique Challenges In COVID-19 Auction Environment appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

DYFD Winter - 300x90

Comments are closed.