The pace picked up at the Del Mar yearling sale Monday night, with four horses bringing six-figure prices compared to one in Sunday's opening session. But it was not enough to reverse the Southern California auction's downward trends. The sale ended with declines of more than 20% for gross revenue, average price, and median price.
The big setbacks were puzzling to officials of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, which conducts the auction. Going into the sale, they thought they had a catalogue full of horses with strong pedigrees and good conformation. They also thought they might be able to improve on last year's record highs for average and median.
"I'm at a loss (to explain what happened)," said Doug Burge, the executive vice president and general manager of the CTBA. "I heard from some buyers that they didn't like the horses as much as they had last year physically. Other buyers told me they thought the quality was on par from years past. So, from that standpoint, in regards to the horseflesh, we can't use that as a reason why the numbers dropped.
"These are very difficult times in California, with the increased costs of racing horses, and that looks it's something that needs to be addressed. But I don't think I can pinpoint one reason why we saw such a significant drop."
The CTBA reported that 90 horses were sold for a gross of $3,105,500, an average of $34,506, and a median of $25,500. The gross and average decreased 27.6% and 21.2, respectively, from 2002. The median fell 21.5%. The buy-back rate rose from 31.5% last year to 35.7% this year.
Deuce Prize, a Smokester colt, sold for $160,000 Monday to top the sale. Dave Hulkewicz of Plano, Texas, and Ernie Moody of Las Vegas purchased him from Jack and Barb Hatch's Green Acres Stable, agent. The immediate underbidder was Ed Friendly, who was accompanied by trainer Bob Baffert.
"He has all the dimensions and the form to be a great sprinter," said Bruce Headley, who will train the colt.
Deuce Prize was produced from the unraced Prized mare Prizes Are Lovely, who is a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Quite Extraordinary (by Run of Luck). The colt was bred in California by Vera A. Holloway.
During Monday's session, 53 horses were sold for a gross of $1,952,500, an average of $36,840, and a median of $25,000. During 2002's comparable session, the 47 horses sold grossed $1,858,000 and averaged $39,532. The median was $30,000.