08/21/2008 11:00PM

Changes may spark rebound for yearling sale

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A change of venue, date, and catalog size may help to revive the Northern California yearling sale, which is being held Tuesday at the Sonoma County fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

California's yearling consignors can do with a dose of good news.

Last year's sale, held at the Alameda County fairgrounds in Pleasanton in late September, saw average price drop 29 percent to $5,839. Overall, 154 horses sold for $899,200, down 36 percent from a record 2006 sale. The sale-topper was a Siberian Summer colt that sold for $40,000.

The Northern California sale has always been geared toward a regional market, with prices that reflect that. In 2006, the sale averaged $8,192, the highest figure since the one-day event was launched in 2004. The 2006 sale-topper was a Benchmark colt who sold for $72,000.

In 2006, the sale was conducted in August, which the sponsors of the sale, the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, thought was a better fit for the regional and national calendar this year.

"Historically, the August dates generated better results," said CTBA executive director Doug Burge. "The consignors would prefer to have this sale in late August," prior to Keeneland's September yearling sale.

The move to August keeps the sale away from another CTBA-affiliated event, the California October yearling sale at Barretts, which this year will be held on Sept. 30. Last year, the two events were held a week apart.

Burge said the Santa Rosa barns will provide a better layout than Pleasanton, which restricted sales horses to temporary stalls.

"We have the entire barn area and there is plenty of room to show," Burge said. "We have the permanent racing stalls, which I think is a plus."

This year, the catalog has been reduced from 264 in 2007 to 206. In 2006, there were 246 horses in the catalog.

"I think that will help better meet the demand that is there," Burge said of the smaller catalog. "We may still have an oversupply problem. We've been able to address that with a smaller catalog."

Despite its small stature, the sale has produced its share of notable horses. Autism Awareness, by Tannersmyman, was sold for $1,000 at the 2006 sale, and won the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby earlier this year. Sierra Sunset, bought for $40,000 in 2006, has earned $428,696. He has three stakes wins, including the 2007 California Cup Juvenile and the Grade 3 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park earlier this year.

"This sale in particular, a lot of it has to do with the success we've had selling yearlings at reasonable prices," Burge said. "They've turned profits for their owners. It's given us a lot to promote."

That may not translate to good news for consignors who are selling horses for low prices, but some do have the fallback comfort of breeder awards.

A more worrisome factor for consignors and sale organizers is the condition of the California economy and the future of racing in Northern California. Another regional auction, the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. yearling sale earlier this week in Florida, showed declines in median and average. And there is concern about the stability of Northern California racing following the closure of Bay Meadows last Sunday.

"We won't know the effect of the economy and the uncertainty of racing up north until after the sale," Burge said.

Several of the state's leading sires are represented, including Benchmark, Bertrando, Cee's Tizzy, and In Excess. The largest consignments are from Sam Hendricks, with 20 horses; Mary Knight, with 18; Colleen Turpin-Boyce, Old English Rancho, and Woodbridge Farm, with 15 each; and Green Acre Stables and Harris Farms, with 14 each.