12/26/2003 12:00AM

Del Mar yearling sale cut back, may be moved to racetrack

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The Del Mar yearling sale in August will be shortened from two days to one and may be moved to the Del Mar racetrack, officials with the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association have announced.

The sale will be held on the evening of Monday, Aug. 16. For the last several years the sale has been held over two days in mid-August at the Del Mar HorsePark.

But after setting records for average price in 2001 and 2002, the 2003 sale averaged $34,506, a drop of 21 percent from the 2002 mark of $43,770. A weak California economy, the high cost of operating stables in the state, competition from the claiming market, and a lack of quality individuals in the sale were among the reasons for the disappointing returns for consignors.

The 2003 sale offered 140 horses, but only 90 were listed as sold. In the last five years, the sale has offered as few as 130 and as many as 187.

"The goal of the Del Mar sale, for the last nine or 10 years, has been to provide a venue for breeders in California to showcase their top yearlings," Doug Burge, the executive vice-president and general manager of the state breeders association, said in a statement.

"But in reviewing the 2003 sale - both the results as well as the horses cataloged - it was evident that there was not as much consistency in regards to quality as there had been in the past."

Mary Knight led all consignors in 2003 with 14 yearlings selling for $532,000. She supports a reduction to a one-day sale and a potential move to Del Mar.

"I think it's kind of bold, primarily the reduction in numbers," she said. "I think it's the only way."

She says the move to a one-day sale will have a negative reaction from people whose yearlings are not selected in an event likely to include 120 to 130 horses.

"There will be a lot of people disappointed," Knight said. "I think, obviously, selling horses in one day they'll have to shave it down even further. I haven't heard exact numbers. They're trying to sell select horses. That's a way of raising the bar to breed better horses."

Knight advises some of her Del Mar clients on a year-round basis, and not just as the sale approaches. She says some yearling owners must face the reality that they have horses that are better suited to the October sale at Barretts in Pomona than Del Mar.

"Don't lobby to get your horse in Del Mar if you're not chosen," she said. "You don't want to be there if you don't belong."

Knight said a potential move to Del Mar would be a convenience for potential buyers, and particularly trainers based at the racetrack.

Since 1996, the sale has been held at the Del Mar HorsePark, approximately four miles inland from the racetrack.

"I think it's a matter of dollars and cents," she said. "When they have to brings in the tents, the rest rooms, and completely redo that facility for four or five days, the cost of operating there has gotten out of hand."

"I do support the move. I think it will be a lot better at the racetrack in one night. People can much more easily see the horses during the day. It's hard to fight traffic during the day to get to HorsePark.

"If they reduce the number of horses, it should drive the prices up. By reducing the number you should get better quality of horses and drive the prices up."