Auction Could Return to Northern California

The California Thoroughbred Breeders Association appears ready to lend its backing to a move to re-establish a yearling sale in Northern California.

After listening to a number of Northern California breeders speak at a packed Feb. 9 business meeting in Sacramento, CTBA general manager Doug Burge put together a task force to create an auction plan.

The CTBA has not sponsored a Northern California sale since 1993.

"The CTBA can't afford to subsidize a sale in Northern California," Burge said. "But we recognize the need."

He said the earlier CTBA sale in Northern California was not well supported. "We had quite a few no bids and the average was very slow," he noted.

Burge suggested a target date for the first sale of Sept. 28 at the Pleasanton County Fairgrounds, although there was some discussion of when the best time would be to hold it. Most who spoke said they would prefer to begin with a yearling-only sale, perhaps adding a mixed sale in the future.

Northern California breeders are unable to get more than a handful of yearlings into the Del Mar Select Sale in mid-August. The down side for breeders is that those horses don't compete in California and aren't eligible for any of the state's $14 million incentive program.

"We're starting to have a good California yearling program in Washington," said Lois Meidinger. "We'd better do something" to keep these horses in California.

She later noted that Hastings Park in Western Canada is upgrading its purse structure thanks to the addition of slot machines and will bring additional pressure to the California market.

A private company, American Equine Sales, has held a sale mainly for yearlings each August at Pleasanton in recent years, noted breeder Sue Hubbard. However, after a poor auction in 2003, the company has declared bankruptcy. Hubbard said the CTBA's support would help make a Northern California sale viable once more.

"We've had some terrible sales but the enthusiasm from the trainers has always been there," she said. "The entire picture has changed in 11 years."

Burge estimated that a yearling sale could be accomplished for $115,000, assuming 150 head were auctioned with a $500 minimum commission and a $300 entry fee.

In other auction news, Scoop Vessels, chairman of the CTBA's sales committee, confirmed that the Del Mar Select Yearling Sale would be moved from the horse ring pavilion near the track there to the main track's paddock. The sale will be shortened to one day, the evening of Aug. 16, to kick off Pacific Classic (gr. I) week at the seaside venue. He said this year's auction will catalog 120 horses, down from 150.

Vessels said the CTBA's hope is that the changes will help the sale "be more selective and to allow us to put our best foot forward. (Del Mar president) Joe Harper is thrilled to have the sale coming back to Del Mar."

The 2003 sale suffered decreases of more than 20% in the auction's gross revenue, median, and average price when 90 yearlings were sold. The buy-back rate was 35.7%.