05/17/2002 12:00AM

Shopping at the low end

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The term "international Thoroughbred buyer" invokes the image of wealthy Arab princes or powerful breeding conglomerates ready to spend millions on a horse. But sellers with horses at the lower level of the Barretts May 2 auction in California saw another aspect of international buying power.

Pony World Farm, an agency representing the Korea Racing Association, helped vendors with cheaper stock, buying six 2-year-olds for a total of $20,400. That may not sound like much, but that small shopping list helped shore up a part of the Thoroughbred market that has suffered the most for a lack of interested buyers.

"What was remarkable about our May auction was that we had active bidding from the bottom of the market up, and those kinds of buyers can help that," said Barretts president Jerry McMahon said of the Korean contingent. "There were people bidding on the top horses, but there were also people bidding on the $3,000 to $5,000 horses. When you look at the low end of the California market, it fits emerging countries as far as their racing goes."

Buyers representing the Korea Racing Association have stepped up their purchasing in recent years, acquiring stallions, mares, and 2-year-olds from breeders and sales from Oregon to Maryland. Among the horses sold to Korea in the last two years are Nite Dreamer, Walkslikeaduck, Glide, Social Charter, and Sharp Appeal, all recruited for the country's stallion program. Through the California-based Narvick International Agency, the KRA also purchased 22 mares, ranging from $700 to $5,700, at the 2000 Barretts January mixed sale.

Not surprisingly, states with substantial commercial breeding programs such as Maryland and Kentucky have actively promoted their stock to the Asian market, including Korean interests, in an effort to shore up the sagging lower level of Thoroughbred production.

There may be more Korean purchases in the next few years. Korea currently has two racetracks, one for Thoroughbreds and one for an indigenous breed of ponies, and a second Thoroughbred track, in the country's second-largest city of Pusan, is under construction. The KRA built a farm and training center on Jeju Island in 1995 and is planning a second such complex on the mainland.

Korean racing is government-run, which adds an unusual twist to the buying process. At auctions, the government contracts with agents to acquire a number of horses for a total amount.

"It's like the government would do if they were buying desks for the army," said one American-based agent who has acquired horses for the KRA. "And they do the same thing for their hay and everything."

Caterpillar control

The University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, which is monitoring mare reproductive loss syndrome in central Kentucky, recommended Friday that breeders fence off areas infested by Eastern tent caterpillars, such as under defoliated fruit trees.

The caterpillars are considered a risk factor for the syndrome, which last year cause thousands of early- and late-term abortions in mares. UK researchers have recommended limited pasture time for mares in fields known to have caterpillars in them.

The university's extension forage specialist, Dr. Jimmy Henning, also noted that mares may be turned out for longer periods on fields with no history of caterpillar migration or good caterpillar control.

Etc. . . .

Almutawakel, winner of the 1999 Dubai World Cup, will miss the remainder of the 2002 breeding season after injuring his right stifle Wednesday in a paddock accident at Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum's Derrinstown Stud in Co. Kildare, Ireland. A 7-year-old son of Machiavellian, he is expected to stand in 2003. . . . The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company has cataloged 440 juveniles and 14 horses of racing age to its June auction, which will take place in Ocala, Fla., on June 18-19. Two under-tack shows, on June 15-16, will precede the auction. . . . Prairie Meadows, Suffolk Downs, Calder Race Course, Del Mar, and Belmont Park will name races this summer in honor of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. Earlier this year, Rillito Park in Arizona named a race in honor of the foundation, which funds research related to equine health.