10/05/2007 12:00AM

Sellers concerned by yearling sale dip

EmailAndy Havens perhaps had a better sale than anyone at Tuesday's California October yearling sale at Barretts in Pomona, Calif.

Havens led all consignors, selling 31 horses for $706,700, including a Friends Lake colt that topped the sale at $150,000.

But even Havens left the sale confused about the California yearling market. Significant declines in average price, median, and gross and an increased buy-back rate left consignors disappointed in the sale results.

In the one-day sale, 169 horses were sold for $3,364,600, an average price of $19,909 and a median of $11,000. The gross fell 22.3opercent, while the average was down 21.3 percent from 2006. The median showed the most significant loss, down 31.2 percent from $16,000 in 2006.

"I had a strong top end, so from that standpoint the horses that were really nice horses brought good value," Havens said. "I experienced pretty much the same level of buy-back as everyone else did, and that was the disturbing part to me.

"I don't like buying back horses. I'm usually pretty good at appraising them. On reflection, I was pretty disturbed. I thought we were reasonable. We didn't have people to pick up the lower end of horses. I don't know the point we could have sold them."

The sale results have left some observers wondering about the overall health of the yearling market in California. As a venue, Barretts certainly had little trouble selling 2-year-olds in training in the spring. The March sale earlier this year had an average of $219,773, a gain of 42 percent over the 2006 sale; while the May sale had an average of $62,604, a gain of 19 percent over 2006.

This was the third year of the California October yearling sale, a joint venture between Barretts and the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

The lower figures on Tuesday alarmed Barretts president Gerald McMahon.

"In our first year in this same concept and dates, we had a lot of enthusiasm and started off well," he said. "We didn't get a lot of return buyers each year, and now we're not seeing a lot of demand for the horses.

"We've got a disconnect except for the cases when [buyers] compete for a horse."

McMahon said Barretts and the CTBA accepted about half of the horses nominated to Tuesday's sale.

"We didn't say this is a select market," he said. "We take the best half of what is offered, and this is the result."

One factor working against the yearling market is the desire of California racehorse owners for immediate action. Claiming activity is very popular in Southern California.

"They're looking for ready-made racehorses, a 2-year-old, claimer, or European or Argentine horse," McMahon said of horse owners. "This has been going on. The only solution is to compete for buyers by upgrading your horses."

That can be frustrating for Havens, who also consigns extensively to Barretts's March and May sales.

"I had some pretty nice horses," he said of Tuesday's sale. "I know what they're worth, and we didn't get them sold."

Havens said yearling buyers may have been suffering from "sales fatigue" after the marathon Keeneland September yearling sale in Kentucky and the less prestigious Northern California yearling sale conducted by the CTBA on Sept. 25. "There are a whole lot at the same time," he said.

Havens said that some of the horses that were bought back Tuesday were later sold privately. The others will be raced by their owners or offered at sales of 2-year-olds in training, he said.

"Some will be 2-year-olds in training, and will be good 2-year-olds in training," he said.