Barretts shattered a world record Tuesday when it sold a flashy chestnut son of Sea of Secrets for $2.7 million at its March select sale of 2-year-olds in training. But the Southern California auction lost some of its luster when nearly half of the horses it offered failed to find new homes.
"You have mixed emotions," said Jerry McMahon, Barretts' president and general manager. "We had a sale with a top end that was tremendous. Our whole environment is really good for quality people -- both buyers and consignors. This company has been continuously able to sell record-priced 2-year-olds. On the other hand, we don't have enough top-quality horses to sell. The important thing for us, in the future, is to get some additional consignors, who are professionals, into this market -- people who will select horses for this kind of market and train them accordingly. That's what you hope the top end of this sale will allow us to do."
Eighty-six horses sold for a gross revenue of $12,228,000, an average price of $142,186, and a median price of $60,000. Compared to a year ago, the number sold and gross increased by 17.8% and 11.7%, respectively. However, the average and median fell by 5.2% and 33.3%, respectively. The buy-back rate soared from 39.7% last year to 48.5% this year.
According to McMahon, a change in Barretts' horse recruiting strategy for the March sale was a key factor in the buy-back rate's dramatic surge.
"This year, we zigged when the market zagged," he explained. "We opened up the sale aiming to broaden the base of buyers that could buy here. We felt like the market was good last year for the $40,000 to $80,000 horses and that it was healthy to try to offer more of them. But that occurred at a time when the buyers for those kinds of horses are out of the market because of the erosion of the economy."
One of the biggest challenges that Barretts faced this year was the loss of its top March buyer, Prince Ahmed Salman, who died last summer. Salman invested more than $18 million in horses at the auction over the years and ranked as its leading buyer, in terms of gross expenditures, five times.
But the sale's latest edition attracted a large and enthusiastic group of wealthy shoppers that helped make up for Salman's absence. They included New Mexico track owner Stanley Fulton, Robert Lewis, Japan's Haruya Yoshida, and Oregon lumberman Aaron U. Jones and his wife, Marie. Irish agent Demi O'Byrne looked at horses, and so did representatives of Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai.
But geologist and successful diamond hunter Charles "Chuck" Fipke made the biggest splash with his record-setting purchase of the Sea of Secrets colt. The bidding got off to a rousing start with a $400,000 offer from Fulton, then the price rose quickly, racing past the previous mark of $2 million. The immediate underbidder to Fipke was New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace, who represented the Joneses.
"I've never felt so good about finishing second," Chace said afterwards. "It was a real high to bid that high for a horse."
Fipke is the founder of Dia Met Minerals Ltd., and he discovered the Ekati diamond mine in Canada. He didn't have much to say to reporters; trainer Bob Baffert did nearly all of the talking.
"He's well-bred, and he moved beautifully," said Baffert, explaining the colt's appeal. "He's the kind of horse that if you get lucky and he wins a grade I, you're out on him. But I think what a lot of it was, was that he was the most outstanding horse in the sale, there were people here wanting to buy a good horse, and that's just what happens. It was a matter of who had the biggest stick, and it was Chuck. He doesn't like to lose. We didn't have to talk much about it; he just said, 'Keep going.' "
The colt is from the first crop of foals sired by the Walmac International stallion Sea of Secrets, a son of Storm Cat who won the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) as a 3-year-old of 1998 while under the care of trainer Neil Drysdale. The record-priced colt was produced from the winning Tasso mare Swift Spirit and is a half-brother to multiple stakes winner Friendly Spirit (by Friendly Lover). Florida pinhooker Becky Thomas of Sequel Bloodstock consigned the colt to the auction after purchasing him for only $30,000 at last year's Fasig-Tipton July select yearling sale. His appreciation in price of $2,670,000 represented a yearling-to-juvenile pinhooking record. Thomas owned the colt in partnership with Lewis Lakin.
"I am dumbfounded," she said.
The colt participated in both of the Barretts sale's under tack shows, working an eighth of a mile in :10.2 and a quarter in :21.6.
One other Barretts juvenile brought seven-figures--an El Prado colt who is a half-brother to two-time Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Milwaukee Brew (by Wild Again). Californian Stuart Tsujimoto, who is a certified financial planner, and New Yorker William Schettine purchased the colt for $1 million from Chapman Farm, agent. J.R. Chapman bought the colt for $475,000 at the 2002 Keeneland September yearling sale and pinhooked him in partnership with his son, trainer James K. Chapman. The younger Chapman trains horses for Tsujimoto, who said he did not own an interest in the colt prior to the Barretts auction. During the bidding, Tsujimoto sat with the elder Chapman, who helped arrange the partnership with Schettine. The colt's dam, Ask Anita (by Wolf Power) is a grade III winner.
In the auction's two under tack shows, the colt breezed an eight twice, covering the distance in :10.6 on Feb. 24 and :11.2 on March 2.Complete results, From Barretts Equine