08/24/2006 11:00PM

Several signs point to a healthy yearling sale

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AUBURN, Wash. - Yearling sales are notoriously unpredictable, but the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association's annual summer sale, which is slated for Tuesday,

Sept. 5, certainly appears to have a great deal going for it.

Yearling sales have been strong across the nation this year, with increases in average sale prices registered in New York, Florida, and Kentucky. The local market also figures to be strong, as purses at Emerald Downs are at record levels. And the 215 yearlings cataloged for this year's sale, at least on paper, are especially attractive.

"I absolutely expect a successful sale," said WTBA general manager Ralph Vacca. "The graduates of our sales have compiled a remarkable record on the track, and the yearlings seem to get better every year. For depth, variety, and quality, I think our sale stacks up very well against any regional sale in the country."

Statistics published in The Blood-Horse magazine back up Vacca's claim. Eighty-eight percent of the WTBA summer sale graduates start, which ranks first among all yearling sales in the nation. Sixty-six percent win, which ranks second. And 6.4 percent win stakes, which ranks fifth. Through the first half of this year, 28 graduates of WTBA sales, including the organization's winter sales, had won stakes in 2006. Since that time, stakes wins by Fast Parade, She's All Silk, and Immigration have increased the total to at least 32.

Delineator's yearlings in the Sept. 5 sale figure to benefit from the recent success of their sire's offspring, which include Fast Parade, who established a course record for five furlongs on the turf at Del Mar; She's All Silk, who won last weekend's $100,000 Washington Oaks; and the undefeated 2-year-old Immigration.

The concentration of quality in the WTBA summer sale seems to be the result of a trend in Washington breeding that has continued for at least 16 years. With the sale of Longacres in 1990, Washington breeders reacted to the uncertain future of racing in the state by culling their broodmare bands in an attempt to produce horses who could compete on the national stage. For whatever reason - perhaps because the strategy worked well for breeders - that trend has continued despite the construction and subsequent success of Emerald Downs. Fewer but better mares have been bred each year to better stallions, and the positive results of that trend can be seen in the catalog for this year's summer sale.

The flip side of the trend, however, is that Washington is producing fewer foals each year. While there were 1,866 Washington-breds born in 1989, the year before Longacres was sold, this year's foal crop is expected to number fewer than 600.

Wright to start barn of his own

Blaine Wright, who has served as the top assistant for trainer Grant Forster for the past two years, will be striking out on his own at the conclusion of this meeting.

"I'll be taking about 20 horses down to Phoenix," he said. "I'll race mainly at Turf Paradise, but after Sunland Park opens on Dec. 11 I'll ship in for some races there, too. I'll come back to Emerald in the spring, though. This is home."

Wright, the son of trainer Richard Wright, has spent most of his 32 years at the track. He grew up on the backstretch of Longacres, and he went to work for his father as soon as he graduated from high school, serving first as a groom and then as an assistant trainer for more than eight years. He spent five years in a sheet-metal apprenticeship program, but even during that period he helped his father and worked on the gate crew.

"I always had to have my hands on horses," he said. "When Grant approached me about becoming his assistant, I couldn't resist. I came back to the track with the idea of eventually having my own business, but I've really enjoyed working with Grant. He gave me a lot of responsibilities and an opportunity to work with some really good horses. I'll never forget winning the Mile with No Giveaway, and having A Classic Life has been a real pleasure."

Forster has no doubt his assistant will succeed on his own.

"Last year I had a split stable and was out of town for long stretches, but the barn never missed a beat with Blaine in charge," he said. "He is very conscientious, he is great with horses, and he has the patience necessary to succeed in this business."

Hall looks to the past

The selection committee for the Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame reached back in time for the hall's latest inductees. The class of 2006 consists of jockey Albert Johnson, trainer Francis Keller, breeder C.J. Sebastian, and Sir William, who defeated Round Table in the 1957 Santa Anita Derby and collected more than $600,000 in earnings.

Albert Johnson was the nation's leading money-winning rider in 1922 and twice won the Kentucky Derby, with Morvich in 1922 and Bubbling Over in 1926. Francis Keller was the first woman to earn a training title at Longacres, which she did in 1940 and 1946, the years she also won the Longacres Mile with Pala Squaw and Amble In. C.J. Sebastian was Washington's leading breeder by earnings from 1961 through 1963.

All will be inducted in ceremonies at Emerald Downs on Saturday, Sept. 16.