Like other sale company officials, Barretts president Jerry McMahon worries about how the threat of war and uncertainty about the economy will affect the Thoroughbred marketplace. But Barretts' March select sale of 2-year-olds in training faces an additional challenge in 2003. Its most enthusiastic buyer, Prince Ahmed Salman of The Thoroughbred Corp., died last summer, and that makes it difficult to for McMahon to make predictions about the auction's latest edition, which will be conducted Tuesday at Fairplex Park in Southern California.
"We enter this sale with a big vacuum, and it leaves us with a big question mark," McMahon said. "When we have a key horse, will we have someone as passionate as the prince trying to buy him? We just don't know. And that's one of the reasons why we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
"I don't have a real strong sense of the market yet. Our presale requests for catalogues and videotapes have been very solid. But it's really anybody's guess whether that will mean a lot in terms of the final sale results."
Salman led the buyers' list at Barretts five times in terms of gross expenditures. Last year, he bought six horses for $4,045,000, which represented 36% of the auction's gross revenue. And his support helped the sale rebound from lean times. The number of horses sold, gross, average price, and median price all experienced upswings while the buy-back rate dropped below 40%. In addition, Salman purchased Atlantic Ocean for $1.9 million, which was an industry record for a filly offered at sale of 2-year-olds in training.
Trainer James K. Chapman, who sold Atlantic Ocean (by Stormy Atlantic), believes other buyers will step forward and fill the gap.
"It's a shame that he (Salman) isn't here, but it gives some of the bigger buyers from back East a chance," he said. "It was a tough trip for them to come out here knowing that he had enough money to buy whatever he wanted to buy. I think there are plenty of people here this year -- more people than there were last year."
New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace said he hasn't been to Barretts in four or five years, but he's back now at the request of one of his major clients, Oregon lumberman Aaron U. Jones.
"I came out to the West Coast to look at Mr. Jones' horses that he has in training, and he asked me about the sale because he thought there were some horses that he might be interested in," Chace said. "So I told him, 'We'll take a look.' "
Also at Barretts Sunday were representatives of Sheikh Mohammed, Irish agent Demi' O'Byrne, Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, and a number of Japanese buyers.
"We've brought some of our best horses here, and we've had a lot of lookers," said Allen Jenkins of H.T. Stables. "A lot of the people who are normally here are here. But it's a little light on the Japanese group, and that worries me. They buy a good portion of those $200,000 or less horses, and so many times our horses end up going to Japan. So it does bother me that more of them (the Japanese buyers) aren't here."
Florida pinhooker Murray Smith, a first-time consignor at Barretts, expects to see the same trend that she has found at other select juvenile auctions in recent years.
"It's always going to be good for the athletic horse that wants to go two turns and has some speed," she said. "No matter where you go, that's the horse that sells the best."