02/27/2003 12:00AM

Cal-breds no longer found in bargain bin

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ARCADIA, Calif. - There was once a time when California-bred 2-year-olds were largely priced out of the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training, relegated to the more downmarket May sale.

Times have changed.

In today's horse market, California-breds have become an integral part of the March sale, which remains part of a nationwide circuit of top-class sales of 2-year-olds in training. While average prices at the Barretts March sale are not as high as they were in the mid- to late-1990's, prices did rise 6 percent last year, to $150,000. The average price for California-breds rose 11.7 percent, from $105,294 in 2001 to $117,705 in 2002.

In recent years, California-bred juveniles such as Arabian Light, Officer, and Humorous Lady have passed through the March sale. All went on to win graded stakes as juveniles.

At Tuesday's sale, which will be held at the Hinds Pavilion in Pomona, there are 46 California-bred lots, including several representing the state's leading stallions.

"That is a trend and it's something that didn't really happen much in the first seven or eight years of the sale," said Barretts president Gerald McMahon. "The sale was filled with a lot of national and Eastern consignors. As they have stayed home, Californians are investing some money and taking a shot at the market."

Of the 46 California-breds in the sale, 27 were offered at previous sales and many went through the ring at yearling sales last August at Del Mar and in October at Barretts.

Five of the 27 were bought for $50,000 or more as yearlings, including an In Excess colt purchased for $130,000 by Bruno de Berdt, agent, at the Del Mar yearling sale. On Monday, the In Excess colt worked a furlong in 10.50 seconds.

The most expensive California-bred filly being pinhooked is by Bertrando. Consigned by Jerry Bailey Sales Agency, she was purchased for $77,000 at Del Mar last summer and worked in 10.60 seconds Monday.

Other notable California-bred pinhooks include a General Meeting colt bought for $80,000 by Legacy Ranch at Del Mar who is consigned by Bailey; a Swiss Yodeler filly bought for $70,000 by William Goddard at Del Mar who is consigned by Next Star Ranch, agent; and a Memo colt bought for $50,000 by Sonja Schiappa at Del Mar who is being consigned by Frank Monteleone, agent.

Some of the California-breds did not reach their reserves at previous sales. The most prominent member of that group is an Honour and Glory colt offered at the Barretts October sale. The bidding stopped at $57,000 without a buyer. On Monday, the colt worked in 10.70 seconds.

Finding buyers for those California-breds is pivotal to the success of the sale, McMahon said.

"The character of the March sale is evolving into a multi-dimensional sale," McMahon said. "We're not a top-heavy sale anymore. There are horses that will be sold at $50,000 and hopefully a million. We're certainly letting the market expand to the mid-range buyer."

One of the top California-bred pinhooks in the last few years was Officer, who was sold for $175,000 as a yearling at Del Mar in 2000 and $700,000 at the 2001 March sale through the consignment of Becky Thomas's Sequel Bloodstock of Ocala, Fla. Officer developed into an important 2-year-old, winning the Del Mar Futurity and Champagne Stakes. He is now at stud in Kentucky.

This year at Barretts, Thomas has a consignment of 10 juveniles - six fillies and four colts. Three are California-breds that were purchased at Del Mar last year - a Valid Wager colt purchased for $40,000, a Free House filly bought for $40,000, and a Memo filly purchased for $45,000. Of the trio, the Memo filly had the fastest workout on Monday, zipping a furlong in 10.30 seconds, or .20 slower than the fastest time during the training session, shared by five 2-year-olds.

"I love that Memo filly," Thomas said. "I like the Free House, but the Memo filly has been my favorite."

Thomas has been active at the Florida 2-year-olds in training sales in the last month and said the Fasig-Tipton sale at Calder earlier this week "was chicken or feathers."

"The buybacks are high," she said. "If everything works well, it goes well. Our better horses that were speedy, athletic, and vetted good, brought more than I thought. If not, they didn't bring anything. You may see a buy-back for $100,000 that is not indicative of where the market is live.

"Our 2-year-old sales are dominated by speed. You can have a $30,000 [yearling] that can work in 10.10 or a $200,000 horse in 10.20 and they could do equally well. If you have a $200,000 horse in 10.40 or a $30,000 horse in 10.20, the $30,000 will sell better."

Even though Thomas was somewhat disappointed by the results at the Calder sale, she expects a more open market at Barretts.

According to Thomas, factors that could lead to a market which caters to mid-range buyers include a reduced average price from previous years and last summer's death of top buyer Ahmed Salman.

One thing that could work against some buyers is that the horses being consigned are owned by racing people. They may not accept a lesser price for the 2-year-olds and could decide to keep a prospect and race the horse themselves.

"Most people that buy yearlings in the California market are comfortable keeping the horse and running it," McMahon said.

McMahon emphasized that buyers going after mid-range horses could be the difference in whether the sale is a success for many consignors.

"We'll find out how that $50,000 or $100,000 horse sells," McMahon said. "For some of these pinhooks, they have to be solid horses that train well and X-ray well. If they're missing those components, they may not find a home.

"Performance is so important in this sale. To be successful, these horses have to train on and compete for buyer's attention. That becomes the key to success."