Thursday, March 24, 2011


--Lucas Marquardt

"It's all going according to plan. Someone else's." That's what an older gentleman cracked at Barretts March earlier in the week when Pete McCormick, part of the auctioneering crew, asked him how things were. It made me laugh. It has to be what many of the two-year-old consignors are thinking right now. It always strikes me when you're interviewing a consignor who has just sold a horse for big money, and he or she still sighs heavily when asked about the state of the market. But that's it--the home runs are huge, but sometimes, they're helping to make up for a few foul tips.

It was my first time covering a Barretts sale, and only my second-ever trip to Los Angeles. The first trip was over 10 years ago. I sat on Venice Beach with a pal and we made snarky comments about speedos for two days straight. It was great. Barretts was a different scene entirely. Driving through Fairplex, on the state fairgrounds of the same name and where the breeze show is held, you are taken back in time. Not in a good way. It's a maze of disused old rides and world-weary attractions, and if ghosts of a psychotic carnival clowns leapt out at you, you wouldn't be completely taken off guard.

The Barretts Pavilion - (c) Horsephotos
But that's the track. The barn area at Barretts--and the sales pavilion--are great. The sale barns, sitting three by three and extending three deep back toward the track, are well maintained and sit under the same San Gabriel mountains that give Santa Anita Park its famous backdrop. The pavilion doubles as an OTB teletheater and is tiered with long tables. The padded chairs that swing out from them give the room the feel of a well-appointed university lecture hall. Before Monday's evening's sale, Barretts auctioned off three pieces by painter Fred Stone for charity. Stone was on hand to introduce them. He told a story from the auctioneer's stand, the punchline of which involved Eddie Arcaro loudly dropping the 'F' bomb in a crowded restaurant. The re-telling of the story meant Stone was also loudly dropping the 'F' bomb in a crowded venue, and that made me laugh, too.

Inside the Sales Pavilion - (c) Horsephotos
The rear bidding area at Barretts is a sports bar, and many buyers sat at tables with cocktails. The walking ring, small and surrounding artificial turf, was under lights, as Barretts held its first night edition of March, and there were more tables where horsemen could order a sandwich or a drink and get a last-minute view of prospects. At the head of the path that leads from the barn area to the pavilion, consignors Ciaran Dunne and Eddie Woods spent much of the night trading quips.

Hip 37, c. by Pomeroy-Leah's Angel
March Sales Topper: $625,000
Purchased by Stonestreet Stables
Consignor: Eddie Woods, Agent
I talked to many consignors in the days leading up to the sale and asked about their support of Barretts. On a purely pragmatic level, it might appear the sale's days would be numbered. It's wildly expensive to ship a horse from Ocala, say, and fly out staff (and put them up at a hotel), etc. and that's one of the reasons the sale's catalogue has been halved over the last five years. But it didn't take long for me to realize the importance of a California select sale. If nothing else, the sale is a great marketing tool, sitting 20 minutes away from one of America's great tracks, Santa Anita, and 30 miles from the second biggest metropolitan area in the U.S. It was at Barretts, I'm told, that California-based Jess Jackson purchased his first horse. Monday, he came back and spent $625,000 to land the sale topper, a colt by Pomeroy from Woods's consignment. How many Jacksons, how many Mike Repoles, live within an hour of Barretts? Maybe we can get a few to the track next year, and then over to the sale. It's something to plan for.

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