08/11/2001 12:00AM

Smaller should be better for Del Mar Yearling Sale


DEL MAR, Calif. - Similar to the stock market, prices at the Del Mar Yearling Sale rose substantially in the late 1990's, only to fall last year.

This year's sale, which begins a two-day run at the Del Mar Horse Park at 7 p.m. Monday, tests the strength of the California yearling market and reflects changes made to the size of the sale and the type of horses admitted.

The California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, which conducts the sale, reduced the catalog by 50 yearlings, to 149, a number similar to what was offered in 1999. In addition, tougher standards for conformations and pedigrees were enacted.

"There were quite a few that didn't met the minimum conformation requirements," said CTBA general manager Doug Burge. "For this sale we want people to breed the best horses they can in California and showcase them in this sale.

"Last year we expanded by 50 horses. Our buyback rate went up, meaning we had more than were desired by buyers. Yet on the high end, we sold horses for a higher amount than we had for 10 years. There was a lot of money on the high end."

Similar to past sales, the catalog is dominated by state-breds, featuring all of the state's top stallions as well as siblings to several important stakes winners, including Cover Gal, Go Go, Gourmet Girl, and Kitty on the Track.

Go Go has dominated the female sprinters in California this year with five stakes win. Her full-sister, named Gotyurkeys, is Hip No. 13. Go Go beat Kitty on the Track in the A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 1. Kitty on the Track's half-brother is Hip No. 43. By Helmsman, the yearling is a January foal and is a gelding.

One of the most widely anticipated fillies is Hip No. 58, a half-sister to Gourmet Girl, one of the nation's top older fillies and mares this year. Gourmet Girl won the Apple Blossom and Vanity handicaps this year and was second in the Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 5. Her yearling half-sister is by Memo.

Tuesday's second session, which begins at 6 p.m., features 78 yearlings.

One well-regarded prospect is a half-sister to Cover Gal, by In Excess, who is Hip No. 92. Cover Gal has won two state championships as the outstanding 2-year-old of 1999 and the top 3-year-old of 2000.

She is followed immediately in the sale by a half-brother to Watch Rachel, a multiple stakes winner in northern California. By Smokester, the colt is out of Watch Wendy, a multiple stakes winner in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Named Bazooka Blaze, the colt is owned by Jim and Cherie Harter of Grass Valley, Calif., who have offered Watch Wendy's foals at the Del Mar yearling sale for several years. The colt is consigned by Berkey Bloodstock.

"I think they're on the right track with the conformation inspection and pedigrees," said Cherie Harter. "My own opinion is that the selection process is fair."

Burge admits that the selections left some yearling owners upset that they were not chosen.

After receiving 550 applications, many were eliminated due to a lack of attractive pedigrees or a failure to meet conformation standards.

"There were a lot of unhappy people," Burge said. "We don't want to discourage people from breeding but we want them to breed a better horse."

In addition to the state's top stallions, there are several California-bred yearlings by stallions based in Kentucky. The mares of those yearlings were bred back to California stallions, allowing the preceding foal to be registered as a California-bred.

From this group, there are yearlings by Affirmed, End Sweep, Go for Gin, Halory Hunter, Indian Charlie, Lit de Justice, Maria's Mon, Victory Speech, and Wild Rush. In addition, there are yearlings by several first-crop stallions, including Benchmark, Formal Gold, Swiss Yodeler, and Wild Deputy.

Add familiar names from the California market such as Bertrando, Cee's Tizzy, Falstaff, General Meeting, High Brite, In Excess, Memo, and Smokester, and the pedigrees reflect a strong mix of regional leaders and nationally prominent bloodlines.

Last year's sale had an average price of $31,915, a drop from the all-time record of $36,815 set in 1999. A return to the smaller catalog has raised expectations for an increase in average price.

"The way yearling markets have been in Kentucky and New York, I'd be disappointed if we didn't exceed the $36,000 we did two years ago," Burge said. "With the strength of this catalog, in pedigree and conformation, I think it's obtainable."