03/01/2002 12:00AM

Barretts evolving with market

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - After the 2001 Barretts March selected 2-year-old sale in Pomona, Calif., which reported a 45 percent buy-back rate, many wondered if the auction would survive until 2002.

But the sale, to be held on March 5 this year, got a boost during the 2001 racing season. Several graduates won stakes last year, including 2001 champion sprinter Squirtle Squirt; Grade 1 winners Officer, Habibti, and Came Home; and graded stakes winners Kalookan Queen, Queenie Belle, and Skip to the Stone.

That record undoubtedly will attract some buyers back to the well. But the Barretts March sale is in transition, according to Gerald McMahon, president of Barretts. It confronts the same hurdles sellers face at all the major 2-year-old auctions: highly selective buyers who bid aggressively for a few horses but reject many others.

That trend came into sharp focus on Feb. 26, when the Fasig-Tipton sale at Calder had an alarming buy-back rate of 45 percent.

"I expect this sale to be much the same as other 2-year-old sales," McMahon said. "Not having a large base of production here, we have to assess this sale one year at a time. Certainly, our goal is to have this be a healthy market for years to come.

"I think this sale has outperformed its numbers, in terms of the kind of horses that have come out of it. It's been a very productive sale, and buyers shouldn't overlook that."

Barretts has winnowed some 500 nominees down to a catalog of 166 lots, up from last year's 130-horse catalog. Key East Coast-based sellers like Kirkwood, Jerry Bailey, and Sequel Bloodstock once again have shipped consignments to Barretts, but McMahon noted that this year's catalog features a somewhat larger percentage of California consignors.

"The market here is evolving more to look like what the Florida-bred sales used to be, more heavily influenced by homebred product," said McMahon.

"We are in a transition, and we don't know yet if it will be successful. We hope we will be able to depend on those horses more than we have in the past."

Courting the foreign market

The sale also has attracted entries bred in other parts of the country, from Maryland to Kentucky to Washington state.

"There was a lot of variety offered to us in the nominations," McMahon said, "and we're also reaching out to more freshman and regional sires than we did before. If they're prepared right for this sale, then those kinds of horses seem to sell very well, and those horses need to be successful for the sale to be successful."

The other crucial ingredient, of course, is the buyer. McMahon said that the company moved the auction a week earlier than usual partly to make it easier for buyers - especially foreign bidders like the Japanese - at the Feb. 26 Calder sale to put Barretts on their schedules.

McMahon said that the company has received a number of reservations from Japanese buyers who attended the Calder auction, which could be a positive sign for the health of the Barretts market. Japanese buyers participated heavily at the Fasig-Tipton Calder sale, and if they're not done shopping, they may buoy the Barretts auction. In fact, the Barretts catalog may offer more opportunity than usual for Japanese buyers whose budgets are tight because of the declining yen.

"Part of the problem always has been that as the pinhooking price" - the price resellers paid for yearlings they are now offering as 2-year-olds - "went up, it was harder to sell a high percentage of those horses," McMahon said. "But the horses in this catalog should be more affordable and more buyable."

Officer's brother on the block

The 2002 catalog provides a number of pedigrees to inspire buyers' graded-stakes dreams. Among the most notable is Hip No. 106, a full brother to Officer. The California-bred Bertrando colt out of stakes winner St. Helens Shadow (by Septieme Ciel) is offered by River Edge Farm, agent.

There are other interesting pedigrees that show black type, from Southern California to Europe and Asia, which Barretts officials hope will lure international buyers.

Some of the noteworthy catalog pages include:

* Hip No. 11, the Kirkwood consignment's Unbridled colt out of multiple graded stakes winner Forest Fealty (Baederwood);

* Hip No. 16, Chapman Farms' colt by Will's Way, a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Hidden Trick and graded performer Welsh Note;

* Hip No. 21, Equine Prep, agent's, End Sweep half-sister to Grade 3 winner Go Again Valid;

* Hip No. 31, a Jade Hunter half-brother to French stakes winner Luring and to Bird and Music, also a French stakes winner, and a full brother to Japanese stakes winner A. P. Grand Prix, offered by Havens Bloodstock, agent;

* Hip No. 36, Kirkwood's Carson City colt out of a half-sister to European champion Shady Heights;

* Hip No. 46, Sequel Bloodstock's Gone West colt out of a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Bienamado;

* Hip No. 49, Bailey-Ellenberg Select's Honour and Glory colt, the first foal for Florida stakes-placed Majestic Number.

* Hip No. 57, Chapman Farms' End Sweep half-brother to leading freshman sire and Grade 3 winner Valid Expectations, Grade 3 winner Little Sister, and four other stakes performers;

* Hip No. 74, Sequel Bloodstock's Tabasco Cat half-sister to Grade 1 winner Tactile, out of Grade 1 winner Only Queens;

* Hip No. 84, Bailey-Ellenberg Select's Favorite Trick half-sister to Grade 3 winner and stakes producer Tenacious Tiffany;

* Hip No. 86, Kirkwood's Quiet American half-sister to the dam of Grade 1 winner and $3 million earner Behrens;

* Hip No. 90, Mary Knight's, agent, Skip Away colt, the first foal for California Breeders' Championship Stakes winner Rexy Sexy;

* Hip No. 97, Main Event's Gilded Time half-sister to stakes-placed Mining Surprise, out of California Breeders' Champion Stakes winner Simple Surprise;

* Hip No. 101, a Boston Harbor filly out of the multiple stakes winner Splashing Wave, consigned by Clear Creek Farm, agent;

* Hip No. 110, a half-brother to three stakes winners, including Grade 3 winner Best Dress, offered by Mary Knight, agent;

* Hip No. 114, Chapman Farms' half-sister to multiple Grade 3 winner Mamselle Bebette;

* Hip No. 126, Chapman Farms' Boston Harbor colt, the first foal out of millionaire Grade 3 winner Vivace;

* Hip No. 127, from Clear Creek Farm, agent, a West by West colt out of a half-sister to Grade 1-winning millionaire and sire Deputy Commander; and

* Hip No. 162, Sequel Bloodstock's Tale of the Cat half-sister to Canadian champion Truth of It All and Grade 1 winner I Ain't Bluffing.

The Barretts select March 2-year-old sale starts at 2 p.m. local time on March 5 at the Fairplex pavilion in Pomona. The second and final under-tack show takes place Sunday, March 3, at Fairplex, beginning at 10:30 a.m.