03/07/2003 1:00AM

Buybacks have Barretts thinking small

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POMONA, Calif. - The Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training is likely to offer a smaller catalog in 2004 after discouraging results in some categories at last week's sale.

While a record was set for the most expensive 2-year-old purchased at sale - $2.7 million for a Sea of Secrets colt - the sale average and median fell from 2002. The average dropped 5 percent from $150,000 in 2002 to $142,186, while the median plummeted 33 percent from $90,000 in 2002 to $60,000.

With a larger catalog this year, the number of horses sold increased 18 percent while the gross receipts of $12,228,000 showed a gain of 12 percent.

But only 86 of the 167 horses that went through the ring were listed as sold. The buyback rate soared from 40 percent in 2002 to 48.5 percent at this year's sale.

The buyback rate and the lower average and median discouraged many consignors, and left Barretts management considering plans for a reduced sale next March.

"I would estimate that would be the case, unless we see a total change in the market," said Barretts president Gerald McMahon.

"I think we were zigging when the market zagged. We felt the market was good for the $40,000 to $80,000 horses. I think the economic erosion is clear in the general economy. When you look at what is being reported in the financial papers, a lot of industry is hurting in California."

Some consignors bought back more than they sold. Jerry Bailey of Ocala, Fla., had 19 horses go through the ring from two consignments, but sold only seven.

"I've got a lot of middle market horses and I've had a hard time selling them," Bailey said at the end of Tuesday's sale. "I've had good success here over the year and I've managed to see quite a few. You have to be your own judge for what your horses are worth. If' you get one you like, it's got to bring some money."

Barretts expanded this year's catalog after the sale showed growth in average price and median from 2001 to 2002. The sale company was hoping to capture more interest from buyers in the middle market, which is loosely defined as the $50,000 to $100,000 range.

"We made these decisions in October and November and we felt we could make it happen," McMahon said.

To help reach that goal, Barretts cataloged 55 California-breds. Of those, 40 went through the ring, but only 20 were listed as sold. Only two sold for $100,000 or more and they did not reach the average price.

"We probably opened up the book up too much in that category," McMahon said. "We were counting on performance more than the horse itself, both on pedigree and conformation. The buyers kind of voted on that."

The most expensive California-bred was a Free House filly bought by trainer Ron McAnally for $125,000 from the consignment of Becky Thomas's Sequel Bloodstock.

The filly was purchased for $40,000 by Thomas at the 2002 Del Mar yearling sale.

Many of the California-breds offered at last Tuesday's sale were pinhooked from the Del Mar and Barretts October sales. McMahon expects that trend to continue later this year, but says yearling buyers may be more selective with potential pinhooking candidates.

"In those areas buyers have to be careful," he said. "It will not affect a really nice looking well-bred California-bred colt or filly. People will be careful there. Results like this put a premium on conformation. It won't affect the better horses, but people will be cautious when the go down the scale."

McMahon said he expects about 10 of the buybacks to be sold privately.

There will no shortage of California-breds, or horses of all sorts, in the Barretts May sale of 2-year-olds in training. Although the catalog has not been finalized, McMahon said there is likely to be more than 400 horses in the book for the May 12-13.