03/19/2004 1:00AM

Right plan, right place, right time


A thriving Thoroughbred operation doesn't spring up overnight, but it sometimes seems that way at Joe and Kate Painter's Blue Spruce Farm in Kearneysville, W.Va.

Fifty broodmares and three stallions roam the pastures at the Painters' 130-acre establishment, where until two years ago there were no fences, or barns, or even blueprints.

Joe Painter, a farrier with some 30 years of experience in the trade, and Kate Painter, DVM, a 2000 graduate of the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine, are riding a wave - finding remarkable opportunities in the rapidly expanding economy of the West Virginia Thoroughbred industry. Which, of course, can all be explained in a single word - slots.

"West Virginia has the best breeding program in the country right now," said Joe Painter, who draws daily encouragement from the steadily increasing purses, bolstered by slots, at nearby Charles Town race track.

So far this year, the Painters have bought 23 broodmares on their own account, and they expect to buy four more. Bookings to their stallions, all owned outright by the Painters, have been so brisk that Joe Painter has lost count. They have five foals on the ground, and 20 more expected to arrive this spring.

Construction is complete on a 25-stall barn and miles of four-board fencing. A five-furlong training track and all-weather gallop are being built.

Among the farm's special features is 24-hour veterinary supervision by Kate Painter, who eventually hopes to develop a reproductive specialty clinic at Blue Spruce.

Meanwhile, the Painters have been all but inundated with requests from outside clients - for boarding mares (especially problem mares, who benefit from Kate Painter's care), and layups from the track. They look forward to breaking yearlings on the farm, and both selling and racing their homebreds.

To say it's a lot of work has been an understatement, said Kate Painter, who gave up her outside veterinary practice in order to stay home with the couple's 2-year-old son, Liam.

"But we're lucky to have a good person helping us," she added. "Jesus Olivares, an experienced horseperson, came to work for us last August, and he can do just about anything that's needed on the farm."

The Painters met at Auburn University, when she was a veterinary student and he was attending to farrier work at the school. Joe Painter had been involved with the Thoroughbred business in Alabama, beginning in the early 1980's. He owned a farm, and stood the stallion Race the Wind.

The Painters' equine interests converged after their marriage in 2000. As part of her veterinary training, and later as a practitioner, Kate Painter worked for Valley Equine in Charles Town, W.Va. The area immediately struck them as a near-ideal place to pursue their careers, and raise a family, said Joe Painter.

All that's left is for the Painters' young stallions to make their mark on the region. The roster consists of:

* Devon Deputy (1996, Deputy Minister-Devon Diva, by The Minstrel). Multiple graded-stakes-placed earner of $263,307. Half-brother to four stakes horses, including multiple Grade 1 winner and sire Tinners Way. Entered stud at Blue Spruce in 2003.

* Green Fee (1996, Green Dancer-Raska, by Rahy). Grade 2 winner of $494,545. Half-brother to top 2003 sprinter and Grade 2 winner Posse. Entered stud at Blue Spruce this year.

* Reparations (1996, Forty Niner-Versailles Treaty, by Danzig). Winning half-brother to Grade 2 winner Saarland. Dam is a Grade 1-winning millionaire. From the family of leading sire Exclusive Native. Moved to Blue Spruce from Florida in 2003. First crop are 2-year-olds of 2004.