09/04/2003 12:00AM

Sale numbers up in most categories

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AUBURN, Wash. - The state's Thoroughbred industry showed surprising strength at Tuesday's Washington Thoroughbred Breeders' Association summer sale, which saw 160 yearlings change hands for an average of $16,183.

The worst number to emerge from the sale was that the average price was down 1.8 percent, and even that came as a pleasant surprise.

"Given our economic woes and what happened at most of the sales that came before us, I think the average price far exceeded expectations," said WTBA general manager Ralph Vacca. "The other numbers were even better."

Those other numbers include a gross of $2,589,300, which was up 9.2 percent from last year; a median of $12,000, up 6.7 percent; and a total of 38 horses whose reserves were not attained, down 37 percent.

"I always think a low percentage of RNA's is important to us historically, and our percentage was back down under 20 percent," Vacca said. "That tells the buyers that the consignors are there to sell. They know they are not wasting their time looking at horses they won't be able to buy for a fair price."

Honor Grades colt tops sale

The sale topper was an Honor Grades colt out of Taj Aire who went for $105,000, and the top filly was a Tale of the Cat yearling out of Jamaican Me Smile who went for $75,000. Prices like those are good advertisements for the sale, and they constitute something like home runs for consignors.

In gauging the health of the breeding industry, however, horses in the $15,000 to $35,000 range are more significant. In most cases, depending largely on stud fees, horses that sell in that range provide enough profit to sustain the operations of their breeders. If that is the case, a lot of farms were sustained by Tuesday's sale, where 60 yearlings sold in that range.

Yearlings by Slewdledo, a successful Seattle Slew sire, were consistently profitable for their breeders. Slewdledo, who stands for $2,750 at Paulson Thoroughbred Ranch in Granger, Wash., had the most yearlings of any sire in the catalog with 22. Twenty of them sold for an average price of $17,530, or 6.3 times their sire's stud fee.

Biggest spenders came from out of state

The top three buyers in the sale were from out of state. Robert Amendola of New York bought six yearlings for $169,000, trainer Eric Kruljac of Arizona and California bought five for $163,500, and Curt and Lila Lanning of California bought eight for $139,700.

The prominent sales to out-of-state buyers masked an encouraging trend for local racing, however. Eighty-nine yearlings, or 57 percent of the total sold, went to Washington buyers. That number is up from last year, when barely 50 percent of the sale graduates stayed in Washington. It means that more of the state's best-bred horses will be racing at Emerald Downs over the next few years.

B.C. buyers take home 20 horses

Twenty of the yearlings sold Tuesday went to British Columbia buyers, which probably reflects optimism about the future of racing at Hastings.

Trainer Mel Snow, who was recently re-elected to three-year terms as president of both the B.C. division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Canadian national HBPA, said final approval for slot machines at Hastings may come in November, and the machines could be operational next summer. If the approval comes as expected, Snow said purses would increase at next year's meeting. He also said the track would expand its racing schedule.

Portland Meadows to hold 80-day meet

Portland Meadows has been granted its request for an 80-day 2003-04 season that will stretch from Oct. 18 through April 24. The track will race three days a week, with first post on Fridays at 7 p.m. and a 2:30 first post on Saturdays and Mondays.

The switch from Sunday to Monday racing represents an attempt to increase sales of the Portland Meadows signal, according to track president Art McFadden, who, incidentally, bought six yearlings at Tuesday's sale.

McFadden reported that Portland Meadows plans to have 80 Instant Racing machines in operation by the start of its upcoming meeting, up from about 20. He also said the track has been granted an increase in its allocation of video poker machines from five to 10, and that profits from the five new machines will be split between horsemen and the track's operator.

In addition, the Oregon HBPA has asked the racing commission for an allocation of $250,000 from money generated by the interstate wagering hub to supplement purses at Portland Meadows. Those funds will be allocated in January.

Pending the commission's decision regarding the request for hub money and the results of the new Instant Racing and video poker machines, purses at Portland Meadows will remain at the same levels as last season, according to McFadden.