07/11/2002 11:00PM

On eve of big sale, caution is the word

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Francis and Barbara Vanlangendonck's Summerfield Sales represents a consignor's part of the annual buy-sell yearling sales equation. Nick and Jacqui de Meric's Manuden Farm represents an agent or pin-hooker's part. Both will be doing business next week at the Keeneland yearling sales, and quite possibly with one another.

"Summerfield Sales will be consignor-agents for at least six yearling sales in '02," said Francis Vanlangendonck. "I'd say we've been agents for about 500 yearlings a year for the past 10 years. We start in Kentucky, then on to Saratoga, back home to Florida, return to Kentucky, over to Maryland and, sometimes, to Kentucky again in October.

"I feel business will be good. Sure, we had a bit of a dip after 9/11 last year, but since then the Thoroughbred market has been solid. I don't know if the ups and downs of the stock market have any meaningful impact. When there is a bull market, conventional wisdom says that's where the money is headed. When the market goes down people are supposed to be cautious. It seems to me that the Thoroughbred market is not influenced by the same things that influence the stock market.

"The success earlier this year of the 2-year-old sales indicates that the yearling market should be good. Let me clarify this by adding that it's the middle of the market, the $25,000 to $75,000 yearling, that will be hot - the kind of reasonably well-bred yearling who will make the grade as a 2-year-old sales prospect. Pin-hookers know that their big upside comes from a middle-priced yearling who develops into a smart 2-year-old. We have had inquiries about some of the yearlings who are in our consignments listed in the Kentucky and Saratoga catalogs. The ones who are being asked about have the breeding that usually goes hand in hand with a precocious 2-year-old in training. Let me sum it all up: I am cautiously optimistic that the coming yearling sales will be solid."

Said Nick de Meric: "This year was a decent year at the 2-year-old sales for our pin-hooking partnerships. All our partnerships made money, but having said that, if you look around, you will see that most of the pin-hookers had to dodge bullets, us included. This business, in my view, is getting more competitive all the time. The one sure way to beat the game, however, is to buy top-class individuals with top-class pedigrees for under $50,000 that you can resell for half a million or more. Unfortunately, everyone else is looking for the same kind of bargain.

"No one is going to make a profit with every yearling resold as a 2-year-old. You have to try and make an average profit within the scope of the partnership. I have some partnerships that will average around $60,000 per yearling and other ones that will average half this. My days of buying really expensive yearlings are over - too much risk and uncertainty. So, for the most part our range this year will be somewhere between $20,000 and $100,000."

When De Meric's yearling shopping is complete, he will send the yearlings to his training center.

"Between my place and Eclipse Training Center, Jacqui and I will have about 125 at a time in training for the coming 2-year-old sales. All together we'll sell roughly 150 at the sales. Sure, I am a little cautious given world and economic uncertainty, but the game goes on."