03/14/2008 12:00AM

Out to keep the ball rolling


The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s two-day March select sale will take place March 18-19 in the middle of a juvenile auction season that has so far been turbulent.

The auction year opened strongly in Ocala, Fla., a month ago, when the OBS February select sale set records for average price ($157,640) and median ($125,000). But the juvenile market's upper reaches at Fasig-Tipton's Feb. 26 Calder sale and the recent Barretts March auction fell short of 2007 levels.

At Calder, the sale-topping price at was $2.1 million, down from $2.5 million last year, and the session's four seven-figure horses were down from seven a year earlier. At Barretts in California, the top price dropped from $1.4 million last year to $800,000, and average, median, and gross receipts were all down by double-digit percentages. Calder's buy-back rate was 40 percent, and Barretts saw theirs climb to 45 percent - a far different story from the OBS February sale, where buy-backs had improved from 30 percent to 28 percent this year.

The lowering ceiling at select juvenile sales doesn't unduly worry Tom Ventura, the general manager at OBS.

"We're hoping that we carry on from where we stopped in February," Ventura said. "We've got a good number of horses to go through, and that alone will attract more buyers. You've got the high-end horses, but the guy who is looking to spend $100,000 isn't necessarily intimidated by that. When you only have 150 or 200 horses, then their budget can't stretch as far as they need it to go on some of the horses they like. I think some of those buyers have been sitting on the sidelines, and they'll come here.

"I think the other thing that certainly has helped the sale is last year we had a phenomenal year at the racetrack," he added. "In 2007, we had eight Grade 1 winners and two champions - Midnight Lute, who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and Goshawk Ken, a champion in Japan."

Recent catalog updates haven't hurt, either. Ventura pointed out that Hip No. 141, a Touch Gold filly, is now a half-brother to Triple Crown candidate and recent Southwest Stakes winner Denis of Cork, who was a winner without black type when the catalog went to press.

Quality black type is sprinkled liberally through the OBS March catalog, including a number of offerings closely connected to Grade 1 winners or performers.

Among those are Hip No. 5, a Hennessy half-brother to Magna Graduate; Hip No. 149, a Not for Love half-sister to A Huevo; Hip No. 338, a Dream Run half-brother to Ready to Please; Hip No. 340, a Northern Afleet three-quarter brother to Top Secret; Hip No. 390, an E Dubai half-brother to Sister Act; and Hip No. 450, a Came Home half-sister to Z Humor.

Halo's Image is represented by two siblings to Grade 1 performers: Hip No. 343, a three-quarter brother to Saint Buddy, and Hip No. 372, a three-quarter brother to Jolie's Halo. Both come from Bridlewood Farm. Also with strong Florida roots is Hip No. 379, a Montbrook half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Val's Prince.

And first-crop sire Peace Rules fields a half-brother to Grade 1-placed Big Apple Daddy in Hip No. 251.

Other first-crop sires with notable offerings include Smarty Jones, whose representatives include Hip No. 389, a half-sister to Lasting Approval, and Hip No. 56, a half-brother to graded winner Higher World; Medaglia d'Oro, whose Hip No. 222 is a half-sister to multiple graded-placed Toasted; Strong Hope, whose Hip No. 39 is from the family of Perfect Drift; Lion Heart, who has Hip No. 29, a half-brother to multiple graded performer Mahzouz, and Hip No. 295, a three-quarter brother to Artemus Sunrise; February Storm, sire of Hip No. 71, a half-brother to Grade 3-placed Elizabul; and Speightstown, whose offerings include Hip No. 355, a colt out of a full sister to Yes It's True.

Among more established sires, A.P. Indy has a single horse - Hip No. 250 - in the auction. That filly is the first foal out of Grade 2 winner Classic Elegance. And Distorted Humor's son, Hip No. 319, is a half-brother to Group 1 winner Germance.

The auction is scheduled to take place March 18-19 at the OBS

facility in Ocala, with sessions beginning each day at 11 a.m.