There is uncertainty in the select juvenile marketplace heading into Tuesday's Barretts March sale in Southern California. The OBS February and Fasig-Tipton Florida auctions produced mixed results, making people wonder if the unprecedented growth of recent years might be coming to an end.
Jerry McMahon, Barretts president and general manager, was cautious about predicting what would happen at his auction.
"My expectations, as always, are that the market will be selective and competitive; that's about as far as I can prognosticate," he said. "I think we've had real solid interest in the last two weeks, and that's a good sign. But at the end of the day, the horses have to go through all the hoops."
Big spenders such as Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager John Ferguson and California mogul B. Wayne Hughes were on the Barretts sale grounds Monday looking at 2-year-olds in training. But McMahon was more concerned about shoppers at the lower levels of the market and whether there would be enough of them to buy the less expensive juveniles that make up a large portion of Barretts' offerings.
"We'll be fine on the key horses that have worked well, have looked good on video, and have X-rayed well; those horses will get sold very well," McMahon said. "But we have a lot of horses that need to get sold for under $100,000, and that's a market that you really can't predict. The performances of (Barretts graduates and stakes winners) Quick Little Miss, Roman Commander, and others like them in that category would, I hope, encourage buyers to try to find those kind of horses here."
The average price and median price both declined at Barretts in 2006 while the gross revenue remained about the same as in 2005. But the 2007 numbers will have to be better for pinhookers to do well, according to consignor Becky Thomas of Sequel Bloodstock. Even if the market goes up, she predicted, some sellers still will struggle to make money.
"I think we are going to continue to see that we're heavy on the top end as far as the dollars that we have in our horses," Thomas said. "The truth of the matter is our horses have got to go fast and they've got to vet. When the stars don't line up, the horses that were purchased for expensive yearling prices are big losses."
In its favor, Barretts has produced an impressive group of graduates, including grade I winners such as Brother Derek, Cash Included, Dubai Escapade, Henny Hughes, and Sinister Minister, whose photographs are on this year's catalog cover. Top horses like that help an auction attract shoppers. In addition, consignors reported that major buyers started inspecting the sale's horses earlier than usual this year, which could be a sign that enthusiasm is running high.
Selling begins at 2 p.m. (PDT) at the Hinds Pavilion at Fairplex Park.
Here's what some other consignors had to say in the days leading up to the auction:
Terry Oliver, O & H Bloodstock: "I think there's been a good turnout of buyers; we've showed our horses well. The top end buyers have really shopped hard here. I couldn't tell you if we have the horses they want, but I've seen most of the major players at least do their homework."
Bruno De Berdt, Excel Bloodstock: "It's been good. Usually California is different than the East Coast. On the East Coast, a lot of people come in early. This is the first time that I've seen this many people here this early. A lot of serious buyers are in here a lot earlier than they have been in the past. I think it indicates there is a good group of horses, and I think people are trying to do their homework to weed them out."
John Brocklebank, B.C.3. Thoroughbreds: "We've been very busy, but I think it's because we’ve been fortunate enough to really have a neat group of horses. It has generated a lot of interest. They are an extremely sound bunch. They've jumped through every hoop."