01/31/2003 12:00AM

Fla. breeding: It takes high grades to be 'selected'

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The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company opens the 2-year-olds in training sales season at noon Eastern on Tuesday at Calder Race Course. This auction of 201 horses, the Fasig-Tipton auction on Feb. 25, and the Ocala sales on March 18-19 are what the trade designates as "selected" sales.

It used to be that the terms "select" and "selected" were often interchangeable. Not any more, because courts have found an implied warranty in the descriptive term "select." So the sales companies go with "selected."

"We have selected from the best that are offered to us," said Tom Ventura, the OBS general manager and sales director. "For our February and March 2-year-old sales, the number of applicants was close to 1,500 yearlings. We grade the pedigrees, grade the individuals, add up the pluses and the minuses, talk to the consignors, and accept those who measure up. OBS inspects all sales nominees regardless of pedigree."

The OBS inspection team looks for the well-made, athletic yearling. The yearling has to meet acceptable physical standards and must be reasonably correct. Following the examination, the yearling gets a physical grade to go with the pedigree grade, and then a decision is made as to whether to accept the yearling for a "selected" 2-year-old sale.

Ventura said market trends do play a part in the decision.

"Some yearlings benefit from a sire who is hot at the time and generates demand for his yearling get," he said. "A year goes by and the stallion hits a cool or a cold spell. We can tell from a variety of sources, including current yearling averages, when a stallion is not as commercially popular in the market as he was, say, a year ago, and while a similar individual may have made the grade last year, there's no guarantee that it will happen this year. Our target is for selected sales horses to match or better the previous year's average."

All the early 2-year-olds in training sales accept and catalog the sales horses months before anyone knows whether they can run. It sometimes happens that a horse with a world-class pedigree who looks the part has slow feet.

"Sometimes," said Ventura, "a consignor will withdraw such a horse because he or she knows that that horse will not be at his best in the sale's under-tack shows. It could be that the horse just has not woken up and is immature mentally and is not ready to show its potential."

Ventura admits that there are a couple of 2-year-olds in the Tuesday sale that appear light on paper. But appearance can sometimes take precedence over pedigree, and Ventura cites as an example an unidentified colt: "This colt got an excellent mark on his physical, and if under tack he as is fast as he looks, he'll bring a good price."

Ventura is upbeat about the coming sale and the 2-year-old markets in general.

"We have a good catalog," he said. "The individuals are, I think, as good a physical group as we have had in some time. If Florida and some of the other states that are considering VLT's get them, everyone in the industry - breeders, consignors, and buyers - will benefit. Our Tuesday sale is the time and place to build inventory."

Tuesday's sale has its roots in the Florida-bred sales that used to be held held on consecutive January evenings at Hialeah Race Course. The basic requirement when these sales began, some 50 years ago was that the 2-year-old had been foaled in Florida.

Roman Brother, sold at Hialeah in 1963, earned Horse of the Year honors in 1965. He was bred by Ocala Stud and bought by Lou Wolfson's Harbor View Farm for $26,000.

Nowadays, Florida-breds usually make up about half the horses sold at Tuesday's OBS sale. In the last 16 years, starting with Brave Raj, the Eclipse champion 2-year-old filly of 1986, Florida-breds sold at the sale have won five of the six Eclipse Awards earned by OBS sales graduates, including Horse of the Year Skip Away.