05/20/2005 12:00AM

Pinhooking as a way to attract new blood

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Anyone who thinks Thoroughbred racing is hard to sell to new fans and investors ought to look up Price Bell.

Bell, 23, grew up in Lexington with a passion for Thoroughbreds, and when he went away to college at Vanderbilt, he discovered that his enthusiasm for the game was highly contagious. So infectious that he has been able to recruit about 30 investors, most of them first-time participants in the sport, for a pinhooking venture. They have invested in a 20-share syndicate, at a cost of $7,000 per share, to purchase one weanling and one yearling now expected to sell at this season's Kentucky yearling auctions.

Bell, the son of Lexington bloodstock agent Headley Bell, founded the Sequoia LLC group between his junior and senior years and now co-manages the venture with two friends: his cousin, Gatewood Bell, who works for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, and Reynolds Wehrman, now an employee of the Reynolds Bell Thoroughbred Services bloodstock agency in Lexington.

Sequoia, Price Bell explains, grew out of casual conversations.

"You know how it is," he said. "You will meet someone, and there will be a lull in conversation, and they will ask what you do."

Bell also studied in Italy through a program that introduced him to students from other American universities. That brought him half a dozen investors. While working a semester in Australia, he took a break to take scuba-diving lessons and met a racing fan from Scotland. That Scot ended up investing in Sequoia and brought in another friend, too. Another syndicate member is in Ireland and got involved after meeting Bell through Godolphin's Flying Start program, which selects students for racing- and breeding-related internships around the globe.

Bell, his cousin Gatewood, and Wehrman selected two young horses, a $57,000 Smart Strike-One Over Prime colt at the Keeneland November sale and a $45,000 Brahms-Zhangbei filly at the Keeneland January sale. The colt is pointing for the Fasig-Tipton July sale and the filly for Keeneland's September auction.

Most of the Sequoia investors range in age from 21 to 32, Bell said, though some have split shares with their parents or older family members. These young investors could represent commercial breeding's future, something Bell is keenly aware of.

"I wanted to find a way people could spend a little bit of money and get a lot of education and have a lot of fun," said Bell, now in commercial real estate in North Carolina. "One of my main motivations was to introduce the business to people who had no way of getting involved before or who didn't know about it."

Considering the risks, making the process fun and informative was a key for Bell. Because the investors are far-flung, he sends out a regular e-mail updates and has posted photos of the horses on the web. Sequoia also arranged a day at Keeneland for the Lexington Stakes, followed by a crawfish boil and a viewing of the investors' horses at Mill Ridge, where they are boarded.

"Most of the partners spend their days in a cubicle," Bell explained. "They're in their first year of working and have limited vacation time. What makes me happy is that they're having so much fun, and they're enjoying educating themselves about the game. They ask questions now about conformation and pedigree."

One investor, a Los Angeles resident who had never been to the races before, now tries to make it to the track anytime Bell notifies him that a Smart Strike horse is running.

"When people start following things like that," Bell said, "they get to know the atmosphere of the game and all it offers. That's what really gets me going. It's where the addiction is, in watching everyone get involved in something you know they're going to keep loving in the future."

Fasig-Tipton clockings

Fasig-Tipton Midlantic completed its under-tack shows for its Monday and Tuesday juvenile sale at Timonium, Md., on May 19.

Four 2-year-olds shared the fastest time for an eighth-mile of 10.20 seconds. Those were Hip No. 14, a Grand Slam-Vivalita colt; Hip No. 153, a Dixie Union-Clovis Point filly; Hip No. 277, an Ide-Gray Cashmere filly; and Hip No. 410, a Tactical Cat-Mary Tavy colt.

The 2-year-olds who covered a quarter-mile in the top time of 21.60 seconds were Hip No. 170, an Allen's Prospect-Cosmo Topper colt, and Hip No. 407, a Salt Lake-Marlee's Rain Bow filly.

Hip No. 593, a Hennessy-Social Set filly had the best three-eighths time of 34.20 seconds.