10/03/2008 12:00AM

At Barretts, a buyer-friendly market


POMONA, Calif. – When a Tribal Rule colt sold for $90,000 midway through California’s fall selected yearling sale at Barretts last Tuesday, consignor Andy Havens could only shrug. The colt would bring the highest price in his 29-horse consignment, but he was hoping for more.

“Somebody got a good buy,” Havens said. “He was a profitable horse, but he didn’t bring what he could have in a stronger market.”

Havens’s sentiment was prevalent among consignors on Tuesday here at the leading yearling sale in California.

Reflecting a national trend, the one-day sale showed declines, with the average price falling 16 percent, to $16,689. Sales in other regional markets have shown declines this year.

“It’s a weak market,” Havens said. “There is no doubt. The good ones I had had a lot of interest. They’re solid. I’m surprised that more low-end horses didn’t bring more buyers. The balance of power has changed.”

Buyers dictated the market, forcing consignors to lower expectations. As a result, the buyback rate fell, from 40 percent in 2007 to 28.4 percent this year.

“Hopefully, they’ll buy them, do well and come back and buy more,” said Havens, who led all consignors, selling 19 horses for $368,000. “I’ve had very few buybacks. They’re realistic sellers. We’re trying to get through this and come out on the other side.”

The Tribal Rule colt was purchased by Northern California trainer Jeff Bonde on behalf of a yet-to-be-formed partnership that will be led by Philip Lebherz, Bonde said.

The colt is out of the In Excess mare Never to Excess.

“He was a man among boys here,” Bonde said. “I was hoping for $60,000, but it didn’t go that way. That was as far as I’d go.”

Overall, the one-day sale saw 149 horses sell for $2,486,600. There were 59 horses bought back and 26 withdrawn from a catalog of 234 horses. Last year, with a larger catalog, 169 horses were sold for $3,369,600, with 113 bought back and 35 withdrawn. The median fell from $11,000 in 2007 to $9,000 this year. The sale company reduced the catalog this year by 84 horses in an effort to increase quality. The sale is conducted as a partnership between Barretts and the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

Only one horse sold for more than $100,000 – a Speightstown filly purchased for $130,000 by Patrick Sheehy’s Super Horse Inc. from the consignment of Tom Bachman’s Pegasus Ranch.

Sheehy, who owned Leesider, the winner of the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for statebreds in 2007, described the Speightstown filly as, “The nicest filly in the sale. It’s a new sire, but he’s doing okay. I’d like to have gotten the filly cheaper. It’s a long time since we had a good horse.”

Sheehy said the filly will race in California or Europe.

“Hopefully, she’ll run next year,” he said. “I think good horses can run anywhere.”

A downturn in the market was by no means a surprise to Barbara Butterworth, who consigned 13 horses through her West 12 Ranch. She sold 12 horses for an average of $19,750.

“The horses were selling right where we thought they’d sell,” Butterworth said. “I was off by $2,000 on one. A lot of this has to do with pretty realistic expectations. Let the market take it the rest of the way.”

Prior to the sale, Barretts president Gerald McMahon predicted a “buyers’ market.”

“I think our market held up really well in light of what we were up against,” McMahon said. “We’ll accept the declines in averages as a result of the financial market.”

McMahon said he feared the sale could suffer a decline in average price of as much as 30 percent.

“When you look, 30 to 35 percent is what everyone is getting with in Europe, Maryland and the latter days of Keeneland,” he said.

Greater participation from Southern California trainers helped to prevent further declines, according to Kim Lloyd, a former trainer who is vice-president of sales for Barretts. The leading buyer was owner-trainer Mike Harrington, who purchased five horses as agent for $139,500.

Lloyd can be found frequently in the barns at Southern California tracks, promoting the sales.

The trainers “thought there were good horses they could buy and have some fun next summer at Del Mar,” Lloyd said.

The sale was formed in 2005, merging the Del Mar yearling sale conducted by the CTBA with a yearling sale conducted at Barretts each fall.

McMahon and CTBA general manager Doug Burge said the sale’s format could be changed for 2009. The options include expanding the sale to two days in some form, including a preferred session on one day and an open session.

“We have some ideas on how to stimulate this,” Burge said. “We’ll see a trend in a couple of years, a decrease in quantity and an increase in quality. If we can get the horses in the sale and get the breeders thinking commercially, we can have a promising future.”