04/04/2003 1:00AM

Yearling inspection time

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The selection process for the annual Del Mar yearling sale has changed in the last 10 years.

Doug Burge, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the company that conducts the sale, recalls a time when consignors were not as prepared as they are now.

"When we started revitalizing this sale, and stressing that it is a select sale, we were running into problems inspecting horses," he recalled on Friday. "The yearling would be in the field and the farm manager would go, 'There he goes. What do you think?' "

A more thorough approach by consignors has helped the sale to record levels in recent years. Last August, the two-day sale had a record average of $43,770, a $107 increase over 2001.

Later this month, Burge, trainer Richard Matlow, and CTBA consultant and former trainer Tom Bunn will began the selection process to reduce the list of approximately 400 nominees to 150 to 175 yearlings for the Aug. 10-11 event.

The inspection schedule is taking place a few weeks later than in previous years and will start on April 14, Burge said.

"We pushed our inspections back two weeks this year to give people more time to work with the horses," he said. "Typically, we've started around the first of April.

"We gave people a four- to six-week notice. It's important with a select sale that people have the yearlings up and can present them properly."

Yearlings based in northern California will be inspected first. On April 14, Burge and Matlow will cover farms in Clements, Elk Grove, French Camp, Galt, Herald, Lodi, Manteca, Oakdale, and Wilton. On April 15, the inspections will be held in farms in Auburn, Bangor, Butte, Grass Valley, Napa, Petaluma, and Vacaville.

Southern California inspections will be held from April 21-23. On April 21, the inspectors will visit farms in Bonsall, Escondido, Ramona, Rancho Santa Fe, Santa Ysabel, and Valley Center.

The following day yearlings will be inspected in Fallbrook, Murrieta, and Temecula. On April 23, inspections will be held at farms in Hemet, Lakeview, Mira Loma, Nuevo, Riverside, and Romoland.

The last leg of inspections will be held in central California, with farms in Buellton, Lompoc, Los Olivos, and Santa Ynez scheduled for April 28; farms in Atascadero, Coalinga, Paso Robles, and San Miguel set for April 29; and farms in Bakersfield, Chowchilla, Fresno, Sanger, and Tulare booked for April 30.

Burge and Matlow will conduct "90 percent of the inspections," Burge said. He said Bunn will travel to farms in Idaho, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington to inspect other yearlings.

Last year, the CTBA received 600 nominations and inspected 500 yearlings. This year, fewer nominations were received after the CTBA screened some of the pedigrees with potential consignors.

"We went to the expense of reviewing the pedigrees before the nominations to see whether the yearlings warranted inspections," Burge said.

Burge said that only about a third of the yearlings that are inspected in coming weeks will be invited to the sale.

With the recent success of the August sale, Burge said the inspections process is vital, but that the yearlings that have been nominated are a strong group.

"We expect the sale to grow, and [want to] increase the average and decrease the buyback rate," he said. "Because the sale has been successful, the quality of the yearlings nominated, in regards to pedigree, continues to increase.

"We're in a position this year that we have California-breds by marketable stallions standing in Kentucky, but we have the luxury to look at two dozen by [California-based] Bertrando, Cee's Tizzy, and In Excess."