09/24/2009 11:00PM

Major agent at Barretts is hopeful


With a consignment of 55 horses, bloodstock agent Andy Havens is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the 281 horses that will be offered at the California Cup yearling sale at Barretts in Pomona, Calif., on Oct. 5.

In light of a soft bloodstock market, Havens and his clients are gambling heavily on the Barretts sale through an economic climate that could politely be described as a buyer's market.

Havens has seen that first hand in recent weeks, spending time at the Keeneland September yearling sale, which has encountered widespread drops in average and gross prices compared with 2008. The same is expected to occur at Barretts, but Havens is braced for that.

"I've got to be optimistic," he said by phone from Kentucky on Thursday. "I'm at Keeneland right now. It's down and it's not like it was, but people are selling a lot of horses. The market hasn't gone away. It's gotten more selective.

"My group in California is the best I've had. I've got an extraordinary number of interesting Cal-breds, by Olmodavor, Tiznow, and Empire Maker. They're all Cal-breds and that's what guys are wanting."

The California Cup yearling sale is a joint effort between Barretts and the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. The event is being held two days after the California Cup races at Santa Anita in an effort to lure buyers to both events. This year, the catalog has been increased, from 234 horses in 2008. Last year, 149 horses were sold for an average of $16,689, a decline of 16 percent from 2007.

The 2008 sale was conducted in late September, at the height of economic turmoil that gripped the nation. The economic situation has not brightened considerably since then, particularly in California, which has led Havens and his clients to take a realistic approach to this sale, particularly on reserve prices.

"When the time comes, everyone is aware of the commercial reality of the market," he said. "It's been like this for 12 months. Daily life has been affected by this. When reserve time comes and we have that discussion, every agent has to have a pretty heavy dose of reality.

"You really don't know what will happen. A lot of the traditional ways that you read buyer interest is kind of out of the window. You're kind of guessing. A lot of it depends on the options that the breeders have. Some may have to sell the horse or a guy is happy owning the horse. Some horses will be a lot more affected than others."

In his consignment, Havens has a mix of 46 California-breds and nine Kentucky-breds. The California-breds include fillies by Empire Maker, Olmodavor, and Tiznow. Havens described the Tiznow as a "legitimately good Tiznow."

The filly is out the first foal out of the Lion Hearted mare Storm Hearted, 7, who was winless. The yearling filly was registered as a California-bred after Storm Hearted was bred back the following year to a California-based stallion.

"I'm hoping there is enough interest to bring some positive response," Havens said. "No one has known what to make of these markets."

Promoters of California-bred racing are banking on a newly formed maiden bonus program to boost interest in statebreds. Beginning on Wednesday, the owner of a California-bred maiden winner in Southern California will receive a $20,000 bonus above purse earnings. The same race in Northern California will provide owners with a $10,000 bonus.

The bonus program is a joint operation between the CTBA and the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

"I'm really hoping that will have an impact," Havens said. "A $20,000 bonus is pretty substantial money."