08/08/2002 11:00PM

Strong pedigrees at CTBA yearling sale

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DEL MAR, Calif. - After a sale in 2001 that established records for gross, average, and median prices, the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Del Mar yearling sale on Sunday and Monday evenings carries significant expectations from organizers and consignors.

Last year's sale saw 104 horses sell for $4,541,000, an average of $43,663 and a median of $31,500. Those figures have raised hopes that this year's event can be strong despite disappointing results for the yearling sales in Kentucky and New York.

Among the reasons for a potentially strong sale are yearlings from strong female families, a large contingent by freshman stallions Event of the Year and Free House, and a few California-breds sired by Kentucky-based stallions.

"When you come off a record sale like last year, you hope to duplicate it," said Doug Burge, the general manager of CTBA Sales. "I'm very optimistic. You compare this catalog to four, five, or six years ago, and this is what we dreamed about - to have the sire strength and the female families. We have full and half-siblings to millionaires."

The sale will be held at the Del Mar Horsepark, three miles inland from the racetrack. The sale evenings have been changed this year from Monday and Tuesday in an effort to attract the post-race crowd. There is no racing at Del Mar Tuesdays.

The sale continues to have a largely regional appeal. Typical of recent years, the focus is on California-breds, with 137 of them from among the 147 yearlings that remain in the catalog.

"This is mainly the nuts and bolts of the commercial California market," said consignor Nancy Yearsley. "There is nothing boutique about this sale."

Last year, Yearsley led all consignors with 13 horses selling for $817,000. She says the presence of three types of yearlings make the sale appealing to California buyers - those by first-year stallions such as Event of the Year and Free House; California-breds by Kentucky-based stallions; and yearlings by veteran stallions such as Bertrando, Cee's Tizzy, General Meeting, In Excess, Memo, and Smokester.

Swiss Yodeler, who led the national freshman stallion rankings earlier this year, has five yearlings in the sale. Western Fame, also among the nation's top 15 freshman stallions, has three yearlings.

"The quality of the horses is increasing every year," Yearsley said. "I suspect the average will exceed $40,000."

The CTBA received nearly 600 nominations for the sale. Nearly 100 were not accepted due to weak pedigrees, and the rest were inspected in April. Invitations were issued in early May.

"It was hard to get in and they were very selective," said consignor Kathy Berkey. "I have a lot of horses going to Barretts in October and I'm shaking my head saying, 'Why aren't they in this sale?'"

Berkey consigned the sale topper in 2001, a Bertrando filly that was sold for $200,000 to northern California trainer Jeff Bonde. This year, she has 13 yearlings in the sale. Earlier this week, she was reluctant to predict the outcome of the sale, having not seen many of the yearlings since the spring.

She said that disappointing sales at Keeneland and Saratoga this summer did not discourage her, because they offer a different sort of horse than the CTBA sale.

"I get really tired of people saying that Keeneland was bad," Berkey said. "I want to grab them by the throat when they say that. You can't compare them. It's like comparing apples and oranges."

In recent years, the sale has produced Gourmet Girl, who earned the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding older female of 2001, as well as 2001 California champions Go Go and Officer.

Burge said interest is high among buyers, citing a large number of credit applications from potential new customers. He also cited the high number of claims during the Del Mar meeting as encouraging, because the prices paid for claimers are comparable to the yearling average.

"It's difficult to compare this sale [to others] because it's a sale for people who race in California to buy some of the top Cal-breds offered," he said. "Last year, our goal was to get to the $40,000 range. We exceeded that. The strength of the sale revolves around the quality of horses that you offer and the quality of runners that you have."