WTBA Wrestling With $341,000 Sale Problem

The Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association (WTBA) was trying to find new homes for 22 horses Wednesday that had been listed as sold during the organization's summer yearling sale the previous day. According to WTBA general manager Ralph Vacca, the buyer refused to pay for the horses, which had been purchased by his authorized agent.

The horses are being offered for sale privately and as of Wednesday afternoon, eight had been sold. Vacca said the WTBA is allowing consignors to keep the horses on the Emerald Downs grounds at least through Thursday and that the organization's sales crew is providing care for them.

Vacca described the situation as "horrific," but said that the WTBA and consignors were working together to resolve the problem. An emergency meeting of the WTBA's board of trustees and sales committee was held Wednesday morning. They decided to make an immediate effort to get out the word that the horses were available for purchase. Their actions included making a loudspeaker announcement at Emerald Downs to spread the news. The WTBA also sent e-mails to prospective buyers.

In addition, the WTBA offered some concessions to affected consignors, Vacca said. No commissions will be charged for any of the yearlings whose sales were in dispute, and if sellers decide to enter the horses in the WTBA's mixed auction later this year, they will not have to pay entry fees or commissions.

Brett St. Amand, an agent who lives in Washington and South Florida, signed the sale tickets for the 22 horses. They cost $341,000, which represented 12.2% of the auction's $2,796,300 gross. Vacca declined to identify St.. Amand's client, but the agent said it was Cecil Underwood, who lives in the Canadian province of Alberta. St. Amand said he started working for Underwood this past July and had purchased six horses for him at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s August yearling sale.

According to Vacca, Underwood did not specify a limit that St. Amand was allowed to spend on his behalf on the agent's authorization form that was on file in the WTBA sales office. Vacca said Underwood had purchased horses previously at WTBA auctions and had a good credit history.

St. Amand said he talked to Underwood as late as one hour before the auction started and no limits were set by Underwood on the agent's spending.

"Everything I did was in good faith with his (Underwood's) interests in mind," St. Amand said. "He wanted to get bargain horses, and he didn't tell me how many to buy. He said, 'I can spend a half-million dollars on horses and not blink and eye.' "

According to St. Amand, he was under the impression that Underwood wanted to buy a significant number of horses because he was setting up a yearling-to-juvenile pinhooking venture. Underwood primarily was interested in fillies because he planned to race and then breed the ones that failed to attain their reserves as 2-year-olds, St. Amand said.

The Blood-Horse called Underwood's cell phone and left a message requesting an interview, but he had not responded by early Wednesday evening

Based on WTBA paperwork, St. Amand was authorized to represent two clients in addition to Underwood at the organization's yearling auction. The agent did not buy anything for one client, but St. Amand said he did purchase a $52,000 Islefaxyou -- Contumelious colt for Lansdon Robbins of Azalea Stables. Vacca reported that everything appeared to be in order involving the sale of that yearling.

St. Amand was seeking legal advice Wednesday and said he was planning to sue both the WTBA and Underwood. The agent said the WTBA should have been more diligent in checking Underwood's credit and should not have made so much information about the situation public. He said his vendor's license and Emerald Downs parking pass were taken away for three days by the track's security department as a result of the situation and that the action had hampered his ability to work. However, in an e-mail dated Sept. 12, St. Amand reported that his license and parking pass had been returned and that he is in good standing with both Emerald Downs and Washington's racing commission.

Vacca said WTBA sale officials did not realize there was a problem with any of St. Amand's purchases until late in the sale, when Underwood called the sale office and said he had not authorized St. Amand to spend that much money for that many horses.

Vacca declined to comment when asked if the WTBA would take any legal action. However, he said the company would probably make some changes in the way it conducts sales to avoid similar situations in the future. The WTBA does not guarantee payment to consignors for their horses in its conditions of sale because its auction business is a small operation, Vacca said.

The WTBA was revising its sale results Wednesday to reflect that the sales of the horses in question had been voided. However, the prices of the ones later sold privately were being included in the results if the consignors reported the transaction figures to the WTBA.