It Could Be Feast and Famine at Barretts March Sale

Will it be a feast or famine Tuesday at the Barretts March select sale of 2-year-olds in training? Recent results in the juvenile market suggest that consignors could experience both extremes.

At the Fasig-Tipton Florida auction March 1, several statistics reached unprecedented heights, but the buy-back rate exceeded 40%. As a result, consignors at Barretts are cautious even though workout times have been extremely fast and sale company officials believe the auction has attracted more horses this year with exceptional talent and conformation.

"There are some very fast horses here, and if they are quality horses, they'll sell real well to the big buyers," said Florida pinhooker Niall Brennan. "After that, it could be very scary."

Allen Jenkins of H.T. Stables agreed with that assessment.

"There are going to be horses at the top that are going to do great," he predicted, "and you're going to be hard-pressed to sell those $150,000 and less horses. I've got a couple of California-breds that are awful popular, and they breezed extremely well. They don't have to bring a lot of money for me to sell them, but I still feel like it will be a struggle to move them."

The good news for Barretts is that its two under tack shows were not affected negatively by the weather. In years past, rain has been a problem at Fairplex Park in Southern California. The noise from nearby drag races and the distraction from nets for a paintball tournament in the track infield have also made conditions around the auction more difficult for the horses.

"It seems like we have had to move and adjust (the under tack shows) because of the weather for many sales," said Barretts president and general manager Jerry McMahon. "But this year, we were able to stay on our schedule. We didn't have to postpone one. It feels good to be in that position. The track is a very kind and fast surface when it's not under water.

"Based on the conformation scores and how they worked, I think we do have better horses this year," McMahon continued. "They were able to perform on a consistent track starting with the first show, and I think they looked good on it. Now we'll have to see if the buyers agree."

Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, has been spotted on the sale grounds, and so has Irish agent Demi O'Byrne. Lookers also have included Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, California trainer Bob Baffert, and California trainer Bruce Headley, who trains for wine mogul Jess Jackson.

The challenge so far, for many shoppers, has been sorting through a catalogue full of speedy horses. Four worked an eighth of a mile in under 10 seconds. What a Song, a colt from the first crop of Songandaprayer, blazed a quarter of a mile in :20.6. If a 2-year-old has ever worked faster for an auction, no one here can recall it.

Last year, Barretts enjoyed increases in gross revenue, average price, and median price while upping the world record for a 2-year-old filly in training sold at auction to $2 million. The buy-back rate dropped from a sale-record high of 48.5% in 2003 to 38.3% in 2004.

This year's sale begins Tuesday at 2 p.m. (PST).

Following are what some other sellers had to say about this year's auction:

Murray Smith, Florida pinhooker: "I think there is a nice group of horses out here. The Barretts officials have done a really good job of bringing this sale back to life. I think they've worked hard recruiting better horses. It's like 'Field of Dreams:' Build it and they will come. I think you'll see more and more buyers coming out here. They can't ignore this sale anymore because too many good horses have come out of it."

Jerry Bailey, Florida pinhooker and breeder: "It looks like it's going to be more of the same of what we've seen, to me. There are some people who will pay whatever to get the right horses, and I don't how many of the rest of the buyers will be here. We'll find out, I guess. I expect Demi (O'Byrne) will be a buyer, and it looks like maybe Bob Lewis' people are doing their homework. (John) Ferguson certainly is very active, and (trainer) Bruce Headley looks like he will be a buyer. That's quite a few right there."

Terry Oliver, Florida pinhooker: "I think it's still going to be a little bit of the same story that we've seen. I know that the top end is going to be strong; all of those guys (Demi O'Byrne, John Ferguson) are walking around here short-listing. When you see them here shopping, you know the top is going to be strong. I think there is a little better buyer base here than in Miami and a little better purse structure. I'm expecting the median to come up or be solid enough here so there will be less RNAs. They need horses out here in California for sure, and these horses are nice enough to fit the bill. We've had a quite a bit of interest. Quite a few Japanese have come in. I don't know how much they got done in Miami, but I think they'll sign some tickets here."

John Brocklebank, B.C.3. Thoroughbreds: "The horses to me that came here this year – and some of the other people share my opinion – are just a real good group. The horses this year are about as good as I've ever seen."