12/03/2004 1:00AM

Group works to boost profile of 2-year-old sales

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The training segment of the Thoroughbred business in north central Florida is big business between November and June. More than 10,000 horses are estimated to be in training at this time, with Ocala the hub of activity. About 2,600 2-year-olds in training were cataloged earlier this year for the Ocala Breeders Sales Company's four sales and the Fasig-Tipton auction. Three out of four sales 2-year-olds in training were cataloged under the auspices of the National Association of Two-Year-Old Consignors.

Nick de Meric, whose forte is being agent-cum-consignor to the 2-year-old sales, is one of the founders of the NATC. The organization was begun in 2002, and has grown to become a nationally recognized and respected.

"The 2-year-old sales and the consignors to them were getting some bad press," de Meric said. "There were all sorts of negative rumors and innuendos about the 2-year-old sales that needed addressing. So, we - that is, consignors such as Dean DeRenzo, the McKathans, Niall Brennan, Barry Berkelhammer, Becky Thomas, and so many more top people in the industry - decided to do something about creating a sales policy, a policy that we all could subscribe to in good faith."

De Meric was among the first of the organization's delegates to confer with sales managers to see what common points they could agree to. Substance abuse in the form of steroids and hormones was one important topic.

"Substance abuse is not an option," said de Meric. "Our association has zero tolerance."

Florida was the first market to offer 2-year-olds in training. The first of these sales, in the late 1940's, had no more than a bunch of wiry, unfashionably bred yearlings, shipped in December from Ocala to old Tropical Park or Hialeah for sale. The late Elmer Heubeck Jr. was both the farm manager and consignor of the trend-setting Rosemere Farm homebreds who were sold. It wasn't until the 1960's that the 2-year-old auctions under the banner of the Florida Breeders' Sales Company took off.

De Meric and his fellow NATC members felt that the marketing of 2-year-sales should be more pronounced. For sales companies, which usually cater to all segments of the market from foals to broodmares, exclusive targeting is not feasible.

"We are not so much in competition with the yearling market in trying to sell to the end user," said de Meric, "but we do need to market our end of the business and build sales. In the 2 1/2 years the NATC has been functioning, I think we're getting this job done. Not that it's done, but getting done."

One of the ways that the NATC seeks to get media and industry attention is by funding the NATC Futurity. These Delaware Park events for 2-year-olds, with a division for males and one for females, are limited to juveniles who went through the ring of a 2-year-old sale. A nomination fee and sustaining payments also must be put up. When all the endowments and funding are complete, the two races each have purses of $200,000 to $250,000.

Auction to raise marketing funds

The NATC and Hartley-DeRenzo/ Walmac South have joined to sponsor a stallion showing and silent auction beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday. Seasons to 38 stallions will be offered in a silent auction to raise operating and marketing funds for the NATC. These stallions include Adena Springs South's Eclipse champion, Macho Uno ($15,000 fee); Hartley-DeRenzo's Essence of Dubai ($7,500); and Good and Tough ($6,000 at Lakland North, N.Y.).

The stallion showing at Hartley-DeRenzo, together with the silent auction, continue until 5 p.m. A John Deere Gator TS utility vehicle will be raffled during the proceedings, and refreshments will be served.