11/07/2008 1:00AM

Market prompts Shieldses to back off


Two years after Rebecca Shields sold the sale-topper at the California October yearling sale at Barretts, her enthusiasm for breeding Thoroughbreds in California has dimmed.

After a series of discouraging sales in the last year, brought on by a poor breeding market and economy, Shields and her husband Craig are selling off some of their bloodstock. They offered 18 broodmares and weanlings last month at the Barretts October mixed sale and are offering their prized broodmare Charming Gal at Keeneland's November breeding stock sale on Thursday.

For the Shieldses, who live in Santa Ynez, Calif., the sales are not the end of their involvement in racing, but they are a major cutback.

"We're still involved," Rebecca Shields said. "We just dispersed our California stock. We wanted to cut back and cull the herd. We do that every couple of years anyway. It's getting tough to sell horses out here in California.

"I'm not quitting. The California thing is really scary if you're a commercial breeder. You get sick of giving them away for a ham sandwich."

Shields's impressions must be discouraging news for California's breeding industry, which has contracted in recent years in the number of mares bred and number of farms operating. The state's breeding industry needs all the quality bloodstock it can attract in an era when sale figures are dropping at a worrisome rate.

In 2006, the Shieldses sold a Cape Town filly for $240,000 that topped the state's leading yearling sale. The filly was later pinhooked for $800,000 at the 2007 Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training. (Sadly, the filly, later named Charming Hostess, was euthanized after suffering an injury before her career debut at Hollywood Park last fall.)

Since the 2006 sale, Rebecca Shields said she has had minimal success in selling yearlings.

"It's been a sequence of events," she said. "The disappointing thing that I found started last October, at the 2007 select [yearling] sale at Barretts. I had a bunch of horses in there, really nice California-breds by good sires - Old Topper, Benchmark, and Bertrando. They all scoped and X-rayed clean.

"We couldn't get them sold for reasonable prices. We were asking for $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000. It was impossible to sell these horses."

The picture was not much brighter for the Shieldses at Barretts last month. While they did sell a weanling Tapit colt for $60,000, the second most expensive purchase of the sale, most of their horses sold for less than $10,000. The Tapit colt is a California-bred.

"For the most part it's been Kentucky-sired California-breds that have pulled the money down," Rebecca Shields said. "We're lacking in good sires and I think everyone knows that."

Charming Gal, the dam of Charming Hostess, is Hip No. 4174 at Keeneland on Thursday. She sells in foal to Quiet American. She is the dam of Race for Glory, the winner of the 2003 Cavonnier Stakes at Santa Anita.

Rebecca Shields said Charming Gal will return to California if she fails to bring an adequate sale price. The couple plans to ship a few other mares to California from Kentucky this winter and have horses in training with Bob Bean and Paula Capestro.

Rebecca Shields said she and her husband will continue to evaluate their involvement in the sport. "We've had a lot of great success," she said. "We've fared pretty well, but it looks liked the time to pull back a little and watch and see how things shake out and where things are going in this state."