10/07/2005 12:00AM

Mixed opinion on sale


POMONA, Calif. - The results of Tuesday's California October yearling sale drew a mixed reaction from some consignors but exceeded the expectations of organizers.

The event marked the merger of the defunct Del Mar yearling sale with the Barretts October yearling sale. The sale, primarily consisting of California-breds, saw 207 horses sell for $5,239,400, for an average price of $25,311 and a median of $17,000. There were 76 horses bought back and 40 withdrawn.

In 2004, the Del Mar yearling sale had an average of $48,228 for 57 horses sold, but a high buyback rate of 48 percent. The 2004 Barretts October yearling sale had an average of $13,363 for 242 yearlings sold.

For Tuesday's sale, organizers expected an average of $19,000 to $21,000. But Mary Knight, the leading consignor, expected a stronger sale. She sold 25 horses for $667,000, including a full brother to Lennyfromalibu who was purchased for $165,000.

She said that pre-sale traffic in the stables led to high expectations.

"The sale was a disappointment," Knight said toward the end of the sale. "I'm surprised. We had such an incredible number of shows. We were busy from 7 o'clock Saturday morning until the horses walked into the sales ring.

"In general, we sold for less than expected," she said. "We're quite a bit off. I can usually guess within $5,000 to $10,000 on the top horses. I'm clueless on what they'll spend" at this sale.

She said buyers are "looking for structural soundness" and that buyers can be picky "because of the high cost of maintaining a horse in training."

The sale had more than 800 nominations earlier this year, according to Doug Burge, the general manager of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, which conducted the sale with Barretts. Of those, 324 were cataloged.

"The right horses are doing well," Burge said late Tuesday. "Most of the horses are finding homes. The buyers have spent the last three days going through them and looking at X-rays and putting the variables together that fit their programs."

Tom Bunn, a former trainer who was part of the selection team, said buyers have become more selective.

"I think they are looking for a more finished product," he said. "The money is certainly here when the right horses come up. They used to take a chance on pedigree and be more forgiving."

Nine of the top 10 horses in the sale were California-breds.

The sale-topper was a High Demand colt sold for $290,000 by Golden Eagle Farm to John Sadler, agent. High Demand stands at Golden Eagle in Ramona, Calif. His oldest foals are yearlings.

The sale-topper was a pleasant surprise to Larry Mabee, who operates Golden Eagle with his mother, Betty.

"We've gotten a big response" for High Demand, he said. "You hang in there and hope you can prevail. Today, he did. The more we can put him in the public eye, we can see what they can do. People have been saying they want to breed to him. I'm pleased with what he brought."

Larry Mabee said he was happy to see the sale at a venue other than Del Mar. Last year, the Del Mar sale was relocated to the racetrack paddock after having been held at the Del Mar HorsePark.

"Del Mar had worn itself out," Mabee said. "It had gotten to the point where I wasn't going to support it. You get more people here, and more people are able to come to the sale."

Sadler said he was acting on behalf of a group of existing horse owners, who will form a partnership, when he bought the sale-topper.

"He was my favorite horse in the sale," Sadler said. "He was very athletic and he fit our profile. We thought we could pay $150,000."

It turned out that they needed to pay much more.