03/07/2003 12:00AM

Barretts learns buyers want only the best

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Barretts select 2-year-old sale last Tuesday reiterated the fact that selling juveniles is a feast-or-famine business. A $2.7 million Sea of Secrets colt shocked the sale community by shattering the previous $2 million juvenile world record, but many of the other horses that passed through the ring failed to sell. A record sale topper and a 49 percent buyback rate provided a mixed message for Barretts that could lead the company to develop a new strategy next year: a reduction in catalog numbers and an even more rigid focus on quality athletes.

"We would probably be more conservative in the types of consignments we put in the sale," said Jerry McMahon, Barretts president, of potential plans for next year's March auction. "This year, we opened it up to try to get more numbers and broaden the participation of buyers. In retrospect, we probably had too many May horses in our March sale. I don't regret it, but clearly the February and March select 2-year-old markets are very selective."

The Barretts May juvenile auction generally offers horses a cut below those in the boutique March sale and thereby attracts more mid-level buyers. But the presence of more May-style horses in the March catalog this year didn't seem to bring those middle-class purchasers in the doors, a fact McMahon thinks is attributable to general economic worries.

"The select 2-year-old sales are aimed at pretty professional buyers, and they're looking for quality, performance, and presentation," McMahon said. "That's where we're going to have to focus our recruiting efforts. The challenge is whether a few deeper consignments will come out here with those horses."

Perhaps the best marketing point for the Barretts auction is its success at ringing up big prices for top-of-the-market horses, offerings that are superior athletes almost regardless of pedigree. In addition to the 2003 record colt, the Barretts March sale also holds the world-record juvenile filly price of $1.9 million, set when graded winner Atlantic Ocean sold last year. And two of the three previous record colts that sold for $2 million were sold at Barretts March.

"I don't think anyone can say there weren't quality buyers here in volume who were interested in these horses," McMahon said. "I hope the message is that you can sell to a really good market - if you've got the right horses. But there is a lot of buying power here."

Sea of Secrets' popularity soars

Consignors Becky Thomas and Lewis Lakin weren't the only beneficiaries of the Barretts sale topper's dramatic success. The colt's $2.7 million world-record sale also stirred up some action back in the Bluegrass, where his sire, the first-crop stallion Sea of Secrets, stands at Walmac International in Lexington.

Sea of Secrets, a Grade 2-winning Storm Cat horse, stands for $5,000 this year at Walmac. And his book of mares got a big boost when his

2-year-old out of Swift Spirit brought $2.7 million.

"We sold about 20 seasons to him on Wednesday alone," said Walmac's Kerry Cauthen. "We'll be getting his book near the closing point soon."

Cauthen said that Sea of Secrets' book size could reach 100 mares, but added that if the horse could handle a few more they would be happy to add a handful more.

Cauthen is more familiar than most with the 2-year-old that caused this sudden boom in Sea of Secrets seasons. The colt was bred by Walmac owner Johnny T. L. Jones Jr., who sold him through Four Star Sales, an agency that Jones and Cauthen own in partnership with several other Lexington horsemen. Four Star Sales got $30,000 for him at Fasig-Tipton July last year.

"We were very shocked, but we couldn't have been more pleased," Cauthen said of the colt's $2.7 million turnaround. "He was a great horse as a yearling, very sharp and really flashy. I thought we'd get $50,000 when we sold him, but he was still a little bit immature. He had a nice frame, and you could see he was continuing to grow. He was a good size, he just wasn't the most forward kid in school. Becky saw that."

Cauthen added that the record colt's dam, the stakes-winning Tasso mare Swift Secret, is still at Walmac and is for sale.

Civilisation now at Naylee Farm

Civilisation, a 5-year-old Gone West horse out of Juddmonte's outstanding producer Toussaud, will stand the remainder of the 2003 season in West Virginia at Renee Moore's Naylee Farm. Civilisation, who made three starts before losing an eye in an accident and retiring from the track, will stand for $3,500, with special considerations for approved mares. He is a half- or three-quarter brother to Grade 1 winners Chester House, Honest Lady, and Chiselling, Grade 2 winner Decarchy, and Grade 2-placed Empire Maker.

* Romanoaks Farm in Versailles, Ky., sold for $1.9 million at auction Thursday. Denny and Lou Nunnelly purchased the 142-acre property, which as sold through Swinebroad Denton auctioneers. It is expected to remain a horse farm.