02/28/2008 12:00AM

Barretts hopes to hold the line at auction

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Barretts March select 2-year-old sale in Pomona, Calif., was the only major select juvenile auction to enjoy across-the-board gains last year, but the sale company's president isn't expecting similar jumps in 2008. Instead, Jerry McMahon predicts that the market for select 2-year-olds at Barretts will look much like it did last year.

That is both good news and bad news for sellers. The upside: With a handful of extremely wealthy buyers playing at today's juvenile sale, consignors definitely can hit some home runs. But the downside is that these buyers, and 2-year-old buyers generally these days, have stringent criteria that make their lists of must-have horses very short indeed. For consignors who have the right animal, the rewards can be substantial - but not as high as they were a few years ago. Even some upper-market spenders are more conservative now in the face of questions about the global economy. So after last year's gains, McMahon is not expecting another breakout season in 2008.

"It seems to me that the market will follow where we've been in terms of selectivity and rewarding the best horses," McMahon said. "I see more of a continuation of where we've been."

At its 2007 edition, the Barretts March auction sold 88 horses for $19,340,000, up 34 percent from the previous year, when 93 sold. The 2007 average was $219,773, up 42 percent, and the $147,500 median was up by an eye-popping 84 percent. But the selectivity McMahon referred to was also obvious. Even in a market that appeared flush with money and produced a $1.4 million sale topper, the buy-back rate also leaped, from 33 percent in 2006 to 41 percent in 2007.

Returns from the select 2-year-old marketplace so far this year have been mixed. The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s select auction on Feb. 12 was strong, with 89 horses bringing $14,030,000, an increase of 9 percent from 2007, when 96 horses sold. Average ($157,640) increased 18 percent, and the median ($125,000) was up 25 percent. Buy-backs declined, from 30 percent to 28 percent.

Those results showed that, even in the midst of economic uncertainty and up-and-down days on the U.S. stock market, demand for middle-market select 2-year-olds was still aggressive. Two weeks later at Fasig-Tipton's Calder select auction - home in recent years to multimillion-dollar prices and the world-record $16 million sale of The Green Monkey - the rarefied top of the select market looked like less fun for sellers. The gross for the Tuesday sale fell significantly, by 20 percent, largely due to two factors: an 18 percent smaller catalog, and a hesitance among major auction players to crack the seven-figure mark. The sale's average price ($344,118) was down 2 percent, and median fell a little harder, dropping 8 percent to $230,000. Buy-backs dropped only slightly, from 41 percent to 40 percent, another indication that buyers often were persnickety and many sellers were dissatisfied with their offers.

Unlike most of the other select juvenile sales, the Barretts March auction's catalog has remained similar to last year's in terms of numbers, with 191 horses on offer.

"We haven't seen a major drop," McMahon said. "We felt pretty good about that, in light of some of the other markets being off maybe 10 percent in numbers."

The sale features a number of first-crop sires. One especially noteworthy freshman-sired entry is Hip No. 148, a Sir Cherokee colt who is a half-brother to champion and Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute. The popular Smarty Jones has a single offering, but it is a well-bred one: Hip No. 3, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and stakes producer Golden Ballet. Speightstown's three-horse draft includes Hip No. 38, a son of Argentine Group 1 winner Luna Real; Hip No. 40, a half-sister to millionaire and multiple graded winner Tenpins; and Hip No. 138, a colt out of a full sister to champion Ashado. Medaglia d'Oro's representatives include Hip No. 140, a half-brother to Grade 1-placed Anklet. Pleasantly Perfect's only colt in the sale is Hip No. 163, a half-brother to French Group 1-placed New Story.

More established sires also have some Grade 1-connected horses in the catalog. One of the most notable offerings is Hip No. 113, a Salt Lake half-sister to two-time Grade 1 winner Dream Rush. Elusive Quality is the sire of Hip No. 107, a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Elusive Diva. Hip No. 118, a Malibu Moon filly, is out of Chilean classic-placed Vamos Nina. Silver Deputy has only fillies in the sale, including Hip No. 169, a half-sister to Italian Group 1-placed As You Like It. More Than Ready has four horses, among them Hip No. 176, a full brother to Grade 1 performer Ready's Gal. And Hip No. 28, a son of Vindication, is a half-brother to Grade 1-placed and Breeders' Cup-placed Backseat Rhythm.

There is also a single Storm Cat: Hip No. 56, a colt out of Grade 1 winner Nany's Sweep who is a half-brother to graded winner She's Indy Money.

The under-tack shows are to take place March 4 and 10 at 10 a.m. The auction is set for March 12, starting at 2 p.m. Both the previews and the sale occur at Fairplex in Pomona.