03/21/2008 12:00AM

Conditions ripe for OBS success

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company did something enviable this week: It set records for gross, average, and median at a select 2-year-old sale, in a season when there are fewer juveniles coming to auction and the market has softened, at least for select stock.

The so-called "boutique" markets at Fasig-Tipton's Calder sale and the Barretts sale in California both sustained losses and published buyback rates of between 40 percent and 45 percent, figures that creep higher when one factors in horses withdrawn due to lack of bidder interest. But the OBS auction on Tuesday and Wednesday racked up double-digit gains; a record gross ($33,380,000), average ($143,262), and median ($100,000); and a buyback rate that dipped from 33 percent to 32 percent this year.

How did OBS do it?

Consignor and OBS director Nick de Meric, who sold the sale-topping $650,000 More Than Ready colt, said he thinks a number of factors are at work, including the OBS March sale's record of producing stakes winners, introduction of the synthetic Safetrack surface, and improved catalog quality.

"A lot of us are becoming bolder about the quality of stock we're comfortable with bringing, and that has definitely had the effect of upgrading the quality of the catalogs," he said. "The polarization at the 'boutique' sales is frustrating, and it's hard to base a business plan on a 50-percent buyback rate. . . . It's not to say sale companies haven't done their best to address it, but at the end of the day we have to move inventory to stay in the business. We have a deeper market here."

De Meric and other consignors wonder whether multimillion-dollar world-record prices at Calder and Barretts since 2000 have had the unintentional side-effect of intimidating middle-market spenders. Those buyers, the theory goes, then head to places like OBS and Fasig-Tipton Midlantic, believing they can find better value there.

"People say, 'I can't play there, I'm going to wait,' " de Meric said of boutique sales.

The boutique home run is still a career goal, but yearling-to-juvenile resellers, like buyers, are becoming more conservative and plumping for the "steady growth" business plan, said Mike Paramore, who operates the Southern Cypress consignment.

"A lot of people have bought a lot of horses for a lot of money, feeling that if they had one breakout horse that brought $2 million or $3 million it would make up for some of the 'oopses' along the way," he said. "Now people are making adjustments."

One adjustment: spending less for fewer yearlings in hopes of making a profit on each one, rather than gambling on a single huge home run. Paramore estimated he paid about $230,000 for the eight horses he put in the OBS February and March auction; he sold six in the ring for $885,000.

"I've bought expensive horses, but, with 2-year-olds, I've gone back to the bread and butter," Paramore said. "I've done really well with the $30,000 to $40,000 horses."

New home for an old warrior

Danthebluegrassman came home to Kentucky on Tuesday. A group of racing fans and the Old Friends equine retirement facility purchased the Grade 2-winning horse from R. J. Thoroughbreds for $7,500, and Brook Ledge threw in a free van ride from Ryan Beattie's barn at Delaware Park. Danthebluegrassman will live out his days at Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky.

Danthebluegrassman leaves the track with 8 victories, including 3 stakes wins, from 47 starts and $423,794 in earnings.

The 9-year-old Pioneering horse was bred by Dan Mallory, the popular local breeder and consignor who died in a Lexington plane crash in 2006. Danthebluegrassman was named after Dan Chandler, uncle of Kentucky Congressman Ben Chandler. But the horse's fan base grew beyond Kentucky as his career took him from Aqueduct to Iowa to California. The effort to retire him to Old Friends began with a pair of fans, Jim Ponte of Phoenix and Tim Ford of Minneapolis, who were the first donors toward his purchase price.

"He's in great shape," said Michael Blowen, the founder of Old Friends Farm, complimenting R. J. Thoroughbreds and Beattie. "He's a 9-year-old racehorse who's been through the wars, but he's nice and clean and even came with a new halter."

OBS spring catalog available

Catalogs for the OBS spring 2-year-old sale are now available at www.obssales.com. The auction will feature 1,381 juveniles selling April 21-24 in Ocala, Fla. All sessions start at 10:30 a.m. Eastern.

Under-tack shows are scheduled for April 15-18. All previews will start at 9 a.m.