08/08/2003 12:00AM

High hopes for yearling sale

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DEL MAR, Calif. - A catalog that many consignors perceive to be the sale's strongest in history may push the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association's Del Mar yearling sale to record levels this week.

To be held Sunday and Monday at 7 p.m. at the Del Mar HorsePark, the sale will need to set records to surpass the average price of the past two years.

Aided by a strong purse-incentive program for California-breds and a catalog that boasts a strong influence of Kentucky-based stallions, promoters and consignors expect the sale to challenge the record average of $43,770 that was set in 2002.

The sale is dominated by California-breds. Of the 159 horses cataloged, 141 are statebreds, representing many of the top stallions in the state, including Bertrando, Cee's Tizzy, In Excess, Memo, and Swiss Yodeler.

Some California-breds being offered are by Kentucky stallions and are classified as statebreds because the dams were bred back to stallions residing in this state.

Golden Eagle Farm has a 14-horse consignment that includes fillies by Fusaichi Pegasus and Giant's Causeway, as well as horses by California sires Event of the Year and General Meeting.

The female side of many pedigrees is equally as strong. Eighty-two yearlings have dams who were stakes winners or stakes placed or who have produced a stakes-winning or stakes-placed horse.

"This year, I really have high expectations because we've been able to raise the bar and get to a point where we can put a catalog together like this," said Doug Burge, executive director of the CTBA. "We have the sire power, and very well-bred individuals with significant black type under the first dam. That's a major plus."

The CTBA received more than 500 nominations for the sale but limited the catalog because of space considerations at the HorsePark and because larger catalogs in recent years have not fared as well.

"There are more consignors than we've had in the past; not a lot more," Burge said. "But at the same time, we're seeing Golden Eagle. Last year was the first year that they had a large consignment. We have first consignments from Green Acres Stable and Creston Farms. What we're seeing is not only familiar faces from the agents, but farms that have shifted their focus to be a little more commercial."

Some consignors have detected a buzz surrounding the sale since the Del Mar race meeting opened on July 23.

"Everyone is asking about the sale, wanting to know when will the horses be available for inspection," said Gayle Van Leer, who has a consignment of 11 yearlings.

Van Leer said the absence of the Keeneland July yearling sale last month could lead some buyers to purchase at Del Mar.

Last year, Mary Knight led all consignors, selling 13 horses for a total of $600,000, including an In Excess filly for $130,000.

This year, she is offering 17 yearlings, the largest consignment at the sale. All are California-breds except for a Fly So Free colt bred in Kentucky. Her consignment includes two colts by In Excess, California's leading stallion.

While she is concerned that the costs of racing in California could affect the participation of some owners, Knight says the catalog alone could lure attention from buyers. She said more California horsemen are breeding horses to sell - not just keeping their best prospects and selling the culls.

"We're getting better stallions in California and better mares in California," she said. "This catalog is stronger than it's ever been."