03/17/2006 1:00AM

Barretts sale neither boom nor bust


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Barretts select juvenile sale on March 14 was missing one of its big supporters this year, but the auction's upper market seemed to hold up well nonetheless. That's partly because the sale offered variety and attracted buyers from market levels below the $1 million mark.

The late Bob Lewis was well known for bidding high on horses he liked at many sales. The California-based owner was a fixture at the Barretts auction house in Pomona, Calif., and he made a difference to the sale company's bottom line. Last year, he and fellow Californian Sid Craig dueled over the Barretts March sale's top lot, the $1.9 million What a Song. Lewis won that one.

Even without Lewis, who died in February, the Barretts market had enough firepower to produce a pair of million-dollar horses. They were a $1.5 million Distorted Humor-Tom's Cat colt that WinStar Farm purchased, and a $1.2 million Exploit-Carson Jen colt bought by Ahmed Zayat.

The one-day auction had a smaller catalog this year and sold 93 lots for $14,361,000. The average of $154,419 was down 5 percent and median slipped 16 percent. But the buy-back rate also dropped from 39 percent to 33 percent, a sign that sellers and buyers were more in accord for the horses on offer.

The Barretts auction came just two weeks after Fasig-Tipton's Calder select sale produced a $16 million Forestry-Magical Masquerade colt, which broke the previous world record for any horse at public auction set when Robert Sangster paid $13.1 million for Seattle Dancer at the 1985 Keeneland July sale. Barretts, which generally offers less fancy pedigrees, was not likely to produce any prices that flashy in the auction ring, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, said Barretts president Jerry McMahon.

"Our book is made up with quite a variety of horses, as opposed to what happens at Calder," McMahon said. "We have some local consignments, for example, targeted to the $50,000 to $100,000 range, and there are people here to buy horses in that category."

McMahon noted that in the late 1990's, when the Barretts March sale enjoyed a boom that included a then-world record $2 million juvenile sale-topper, it actually lost some buyers who previously had been mainstays, because those bidders felt priced out of the market. Key among those were Japanese investors. McMahon said six Japanese buying groups attended the 2006 sale, a boon to the middle market.

The Barretts sale has always held a somewhat precarious position. It is conducted near one of the world's leading racing centers in Southern California, but unlike Florida, it doesn't have a large local supply of 2-year-olds for sale. And unlike Kentucky, it's not very easy for Florida-based yearling-to-juvenile resellers, called pinhookers, to send their stock to. But East Coast resellers support the auction with inventory, and they're scoring hits, even with the added expense of shipping their horses and staffers West. The hits might not often be seven-figure horses, and McMahon acknowledges he'd like a few more of those next year. But a broad middle market is healthy, he points out.

"Anybody, if they have the choice, is going to choose to sell 200 horses that average $200,000," he said. "But to fill out our book, we always have to have horses that are well-sold at lower levels. It broadens your market for what consignors can be in your sale. And, once in a while, a horse you rated as moderate will step up and perform on the track and in the sale ring.

"You do get some upper-end buyers with not enough horses to select from, but it's not a bad thing, having that variety."

Officer filly runs fastest quarter-mile

Hip No. 122, an Officer-Likely Minister filly, ran the fastest quarter-mile time of 21.20 seconds at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s first March sale preview in Ocala, Fla., on Friday. The filly is in Eisaman Equine's consignment.

Five juveniles breezed the fastest eighth-mile time of 10.40 seconds. They were Hip No. 18, a Johannesburg-Flowing Melody filly consigned by CloverLeaf Farms and Brent Fernung; Hip No. 45, a Doneraile Court-Grey Dawn Grey colt offered by Gabriel Dixon, agent; Hip No. 227, a West Acre-Purrfect Heritage colt consigned by Excel Bloodstock, agent; Hip No. 243, a Straight Man-Rhodesian Romance colt from new Episode Training Center, agent; and Hip No. 264, a Five Star Day-Saucy Maise colt offered by Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds, agent.

Hip No. 240, an Include-Regents Signet colt, had the day's fastest three-eighths work, covering the distance in 35.20 seconds.

The under-tack show was to continue Sunday at 9 a.m. with hip numbers 269 to 535. The OBS March sale takes place March 21-22 in Ocala, each session starting at 11 a.m.

* Horse Racing TV will present live coverage of the Adena Springs juvenile sale in Florida on March 20 beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern.