05/28/2004 12:00AM

How Avenue of Flags ended up in New Mexico


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The purchase of Avenue of Flags, a solid stallion by Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, was surely one of the best stallion buys of the year. The sire of a half-dozen graded stakes winners, including Grade 1 winners Notable Career and Joey Franco, Avenue of Flags has nearly two dozen stakes winners overall and total progeny earnings approaching $12 million.

Furthermore, Avenue of Flags had been standing for an advertised fee of $15,000 at the Mabee family's Golden Eagle Farm near Ramona, Calif.

The savvy purchasers of Avenue of Flags are James and Lorraine Wasson, who live in Las Cruces, N.M., and they have moved the stallion to the Double LL Farm of W.L. Mooring in New Mexico.

"I'd gone down there [to Golden Eagle] to buy a mare and ended up looking at a few, then got to talking to the stallion manager, who said they were going to make some changes at Golden Eagle," James Wasson said. "He said they were going to sell one or more stallions, including one from the Seattle Slew line, and he gave me a list of the stallions they were going to sell.

"One thing led to another, and when I asked them to bring out Avenue of Flags, I liked what I saw in him. They said they might be selling him, not for sure, but I made them an offer and got him," Wasson said.

Although neither would disclose the exact price, sources close to the deal confirmed that it was less than $100,000. Even for a 16-year-old stallion, that is a very attractive price, considering what Avenue of Flags has accomplished.

Golden Eagle chose to sell the stallion for a number of reasons, but once it had decided to sell, moving him out of the state of California was clearly a significant element.

Janine McCullough, business manager at Golden Eagle Farm, said that making sure the stallion didn't stay in the state was important.

If Avenue of Flags stayed in California, McCullough said, "it wouldn't lessen the competition for the others," and in essence, at the core of the deal - from the Golden Eagle side - was relieving competition relating to stud fee values.

"Avenue of Flags wasn't drawing the sort of mares he needed from off the farm, due to the price," McCullough said. "He was too overpriced . . . we needed a more commercially appealing price. And I didn't think it was a good thing to keep four Seattle Slews on the roster and lower their stud fees."

It is interesting that McCullough agreed that "essentially" Wasson made such a good offer that Golden Eagle couldn't refuse it, even with the loss of the California stallion awards.

The loss of the stallion awards, she said, "was a concern, but with the awards' regulations, he would have had to stay here until the first of the year [2005]. So we equated that into the price of the horse."

It was a hefty equation.

Dawn Gerber, assistant registrar for the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, confirmed that for a stallion to be eligible for California stallion awards, "he must remain in the state until Dec. 31, and if he leaves before, he forfeits all stallion awards. The new owner would get the awards if the stallion remains in the state."

The annual awards for a useful stallion in California are significant.

Although "the awards vary from year to year," Gerber said, Avenue of Flags was a significant earner in the California program. He made $94,951 in 2003; $67,540 in 2002; and $76,793 in 2001.

While the reasons for selling Avenue of Flags are a a bit complicated, the reason to buy him is simple: he is a pretty good horse.

"I thought he'd do well here because he's speed," Wasson said. "Here in New Mexico, we are looking for speed. In Kentucky they are looking for the classic horse.

As for setting a stud fee, Wasson said, "What we may do is put him at a price so that the breeders here in New Mexico can easily afford him for the '05 season, but the '06 would have to go up."

In addition to fitting the market in New Mexico, Avenue of Flags appealed to Wasson because he has had success with the stallion's offspring.

"We have two of the Avenue of Flags sons racing in New Mexico, including the stakes horse Reflecting Colors," he said. "I started my first racehorse in 1997 and have been incredibly lucky. Reflecting Colors sold at the Barretts sale, and he has run out about $112,000, and I bought a filly who has run out $150,000 and also claimed a filly named Tellme Truly for $10,000 and got some wins before they claimed her back for $10,000."

His venture in racing had some successes and also brought Wasson into breeding.

"Two years ago, I had a filly who was injured and I took her immediately off the track and then bred her to Chimes Band," he said.

Chimes Band stands at Double LL.

"I have bought four broodmares and six race prospects from Golden Eagle previously," Wasson said. "We now have seven broodmares and plan on buying several more.

"I look for a race record, stakes-placed or even stakes winners, and see if they will nick with Chimes Band or Avenue of Flags."

Between his racing stable and the acquisition of Avenue of Flags, Wasson has been very lucky with racing and breeding. Considering the way that fortune has smiled on him, Wasson has prospects as wide as the New Mexico horizon.