08/06/2004 12:00AM

Claiming market could give sales a boost


DEL MAR, Calif. - As workers on Thursday began to construct the stalls in the Del Mar Arena that will be used to house prospects for the Del Mar Yearling Sale on Aug. 16, several horsemen were busy a half-mile away at the racetrack, aggressively claiming horses.

There were 12 claims on Thursday's eight-race program, but there was intent for many more. Nine claims for $20,000 were submitted for Watch My Smoke in the first race, 15 claims at $10,000 for Chat Man in the third race, and 14 for I Love Racing at $10,000 in the fifth race.

Of course, only one claim was successful in each race, but the widespread interest by some owners and trainers for instant acquisitions could affect the Del Mar Yearling Sale, which produced record numbers in 2002 but was down last year.

While buying yearlings and claiming cheap stock represent different approaches to operating racing stables, the presence of so much money going toward claimers has attracted the attention of sale officials.

"I would hope there is room for both," said Doug Burge, the general manager of California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Sales. "Because of the strength in the California-bred market, and quite a few owners that like to buy and develop young horses, I'm very optimistic."

Trainer Ted H. West, who has been active claiming, says two styles of owning horses can operate together.

"There is so much money right now, and people are getting outshook every day," he said. "There are people that do both. Some of the claiming owners aren't really interested in yearlings, and the yearlings owners are interested in claimers."

To make the sale more attractive, the CTBA has made several changes. The sale was moved about four miles from the Del Mar Horsepark to the racetrack, reduced to one evening, and cut from 159 horses catalogued in 2003 to 122 this year.

Furthermore, recent legislation that reduced the premiums that trainers pay for workers' compensation could lead to a boost in interest, although those savings have yet to be passed on to owners through lower daily training costs.

"I do think with the overall increase in quality in the book that we're offering this year, and other concerns in the past that have been addressed, such as workers' compensation, we should have a very good sale," Burge said.

Burge says he is hoping the sale can challenge the 2002 record average of $43,770. Last year's sale average declined 21 percent, to $34,506.

Invitations were extended to approximately 130 horses in June, with an emphasis on quality. Of the 122 catalogued, all but five are state-breds.

By moving the sale to the racetrack, the CTBA has brought the sale directly to the buyers.

The sale will be conducted under lights in the paddock beginning at 7 p.m. The 90 minutes between the last race and the start of the sale will see the paddock transformed into a sales facility, with a sales ring, fencing, and the installation of 300 to 400 seats to accommodate buyers.

The yearlings will be housed at the Arena, which is adjacent to the Del Mar simulcast facility and within walking distance of the backstretch and frontside. Inspections will begin Aug. 13 and continue until the evening of the sale.

* Souvenir Copy, the sire of top 2-year-old filly Souvenir Gift, will stand the 2005 breeding season at Golden Eagle Farm in Ramona, Calif. Souvenir Gift, 9, previously stood at Hopewell Farm in Midway, Ky., for $12,500. No stud fee has been announced for 2005.

Souvenir Gift won 4 of 12 starts and $540,196 in a two-year career in 1997 and 1998. He won three stakes, including the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes in 1997. Souvenir Gift raced for Golden Eagle Farm.