09/26/2005 11:00PM

Help place a bet on kids' futures


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Culture and the racetrack are not, in the normal course of things, coupled as an entry. They usually race on courses far apart.

That's why it is so highly unusual this week to see bronzes by the great 19th century equine sculptors of France - Isidore Bonheur, Pierre Jules Mene, and Pierre Lenordez - being ogled between the daily double as racing is conducted at the historic Red Mile in the heart of Lexington.

Or a pair of signed and surrealist Salvador Dali racing prints being studied along with 40 pristine large-folio Currier and Ives prints from the 1800's, just before the afternoon's feature gets under way.

There is Daum crystal from France on display, and Volkstedt porcelain from Germany, and some of the best contemporary oils and watercolors of horses seen in America, painted by the former Polish cavalry officer Zenon Aniszewski.

There are even rare horse books, including the two-volume "The Horse of America," by Frank Forester, one volume the definitive history of Thoroughbreds and the other the history of harness horses in America, from earliest beginnings to 1857, when it was written, 148 years ago. There also is a signed copy of George Ford Morris's great "Portraitures of Horses," with a rare dust jacket.

And there is the piece de re'sistance, an original watercolor and charcoal by Morris, lost to the view of collectors for a century since Morris painted it as a commission for a proud owner in 1906.

All in all, more than 200 works of equine art are being exhibited all this week in the Red Mile grandstand. They will be sold Saturday morning at auction in the adjoining Tattersalls Sales Arena, where the senses will be cycled between the aroma of racehorses stabled there and the sight of the magnificent equine art being sold.

This seeming anomaly is the annual equine art extravaganza, covering all breeds, staged by Harness Tracks of America, the association of 39 major harness tracks in the United States and Canada that is the counterpart of Thoroughbred racing's TRA or NTRA. It started in 1976 with a perceived slight at the old Canyon Hotel in Palm Springs, when an art show there, held while HTA was conducting its annual meeting, included 200 paintings of horses, but not one Standardbred.

From that slight came today's HTA show, which started with three objectives in mind. One was to develop a cadre of stakes-caliber artists to paint harness horses as well as runners. A second was to provide a central purchasing opportunity for those interested in equine art. The third was to widen the horizon to quality equine art regardless of breed. It succeeded on all counts.

In addition to the French bronzes, there is a superb sculpture of a young boy holding a spirited horse, crafted by the Prussian animalier Arthur Waagen, and a remarkably beautiful bronze harness horse, sulky, and driver from 1910 by the Austrian John Czadek.

There are western horses and polo ponies, dressage and show horses, Indian ponies and a bucking bronc. There even is a large and beautiful rosewood rocking horse from Pakistan.

As the HTA show grew in size and scope - it grossed $435,000 last year - it kept pace with technology, and the entire collection can be seen in color at www.elegantequineart.com, or on the home page of the HTA website, www.harnesstracks.com.

Live telephone bidding is available by prior arrangement, with a phone staff calling potential buyers.

Every penny netted by the auction goes to a college scholarship fund that sends seven worthy kids from racing families to college each year. The auction is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity undertaking, and has raised more than half a million in scholarship money since its inception. Unlike virtually all other art auctions, no buyer's premium is tacked onto the hammer prices.

The locale, the Red Mile, also is unique. There is no racetrack in America quite like it, with the tall buildings of downtown Lexington looming just a mile away, and the entrance to the big mile track off Lexington's main north-south artery, Broadway. The value of the huge parcel of land is tremendous, but it remains a racetrack because it is owned by breeders, dedicated to the sport.

Culture shock or not, it's a big art week along with a big racing week in Lexington. Following the art auction, a Saturday afternoon card features some of the best harness horses in America, and the historic Kentucky Futurity, one of America's oldest horse races.

Maybe it's an entry that makes sense after all.