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Meet the equine auctioneer travelling across Europe in a camper van to inspect young racehorses

At this time of the year, equine auctioneer John O’Kelly is usually flying around Europe inspecting young racehorses at foreign yards for the Tattersalls catalogue, ahead of the Book One, Two and Three sales in October.

However, owing to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe, John has found himself swapping his usual hotels for a camper van, in a bid to continue his work for the racehorse auction house in Newmarket.

This week, John arrived in Ireland on the final leg of his travels and has to quarantine for 14 days before he can start visiting yards. He expects he’ll remain in Ireland for several weeks before returning to Belgium, where he lives.

John O’Kelly

“My role has always seen me visit far-reaching places across Europe at this time of year, but with Covid-19 halting many things, my wife suggested I hire a camper van and drive myself,” explained the Irishman.

John’s adventure started on 18 May and from Normandy in France he drove onto Luxemburg then Munich, Berlin, Hamburg and then Cologne. Over five days, John estimated he covered around 4,000km.

“Before visiting each yard, I call ahead to check they have somewhere I can park my camper van overnight and a hook-up point near electricity and water,” said John.

John O’Kelly

“While inspecting the horses I always wear a face mask and abide by the social distancing rules. The young horses have all been nominated for the autumn sales. It is my job to inspect them, talk to the vendor about where their horse will sit in the sales catalogue and grade the horses for each sales book,” he added.

“It is important to make sure the horses fit all the criteria and ensure that it will be worthwhile for the vendors to travel the horses over for the sales. In a usual year, I will see around 1,000 horses from end of April until June. We are really hopeful that by autumn, people will be able to travel over with the horses for the sales.”

John O’Kelly

John described his journey across Europe as a “great experience”.

“It has been an adventure, and I had never driven a camper van before. There has been much interest in my travels and I’m glad it has put a smile on some people’s faces,” he said.


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“Getting into countries has been okay, I was only stopped once in France, but I have all the relevant documents to hand and a letter from Tattersalls explaining that I am travelling for work, which cannot be done over the phone.

“The highlight has been getting out and about, and meeting people again – all of whom share the same interest in bloodstock. However, I didn’t enjoy the traffic jams in Germany (pictured, above).

“It’s always a lovely time of year and one I thoroughly enjoy. There will be light at the end of the tunnel; we all just have to pull through this together.”

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