08/19/2004 11:00PM

Success of sale compromised by buybacks

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The Del Mar yearling sale last Monday set records in the categories that promoters and consignors wanted to see - the average and median prices - but also recorded an alarming number of buybacks that left nearly half of the horses unsold.

Of the 110 horses that went through the ring in the makeshift sale venue in the Del Mar paddock, 57 were sold for a record average of $48,228. The median reached a record $33,000.

The sale topper was a Bertrando colt purchased for $250,000 by trainer John Sadler, acting on behalf of an unnamed buyer. The colt is a half-brother to three stakes winners.

The top filly was purchased for $225,000 by agent Laura Stone, who did not disclose her client. The filly, by Benchmark, is a full sister to the Grade 1 stakes winner Silent Sighs.

Four other horses sold for $100,000 or more, but 53 horses were bought back, including nine retained for prices higher than the final average.

"We were pleased with the average. We expected an average close to $50,000," said Doug Burge, the general manager of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. "The buybacks were a major concern."

Burge said the state's incentive fund program for California-breds encourages consignors to take their yearlings home and race them if they don't sell for a high enough price.

"The bonus is a major incentive to buy and a major incentive to place a higher value on the horse," he said. "They're willing, if they don't get the price they want, to go on and race the horse. We have a lot of owner-breeders in California and not a lot of commercial breeders."

Burge said "six to eight" yearlings that were listed as buy-backs were purchased privately Tuesday.

The highest buyback was a Malibu Moon colt who was retained by owner-trainer Mel Stute for $100,000. Consigned by Mary Knight, the colt is a half-brother to the multiple stakes winner The Morris Monroe, a California-bred.

"I think the Malibu Moon should have brought $150,000," Knight said. "He was an exceptional individual."

The sale got off to a very slow start. Of the first 20 yearlings through the ring, 12 were bought back. Some consignors quickly reduced their reserves for horses selling later in the evening.

The sale underwent several changes this year. It was reduced to one night from two, the catalog size was reduced from 159 yearlings to 122, and the venue was switched from the Del Mar HorsePark, approximately four miles from the racetrack, to racetrack grounds.

The reduction in the catalog put an emphasis on premium horses. That was reflected in the average price, which grew 39.8 percent from the 2003 average of $34,506.

But some consignors criticized the change in venue.

By moving the event to the racetrack, the CTBA brought the sale directly to the buyers. The horses were stabled in an arena adjacent to the barn area, but the nighttime paddock setting for the sale made viewing the yearlings in the ring very difficult, even with well-intended temporary lighting.

Furthermore, the event lacked a pre-sale ring where horsemen could have a last look at a prospective purchase before the yearling went into the sale ring.

"So many people look to buy a horse impulsively, and they don't facilitate that," Knight said.

"There was no way to have a last look at the horses," said consignor Gayle Van Leer. "When I buy, I give it the last look."

Burge said the CTBA will solicit opinions from buyers and consignors regarding ways to improve the racetrack setting for the 2005 sale.