01/24/2003 1:00AM

Stallion auction offers multiple benefits

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Broodmare owners looking for good buys on stallion seasons will have a wide array of opportunities on Feb. 11 and 12, when the Virginia Thoroughbred Association conducts its 21st annual benefit auction.

"We expect to have more variety than ever before - with Victory Gallop as the most expensive horse in the auction," said the Mark Deane, the association's field director. Victory Gallop has an advertised fee of $20,000.

Approximately 200 horses, from Kentucky, Florida, California, Maryland, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, as well as Virginia, will be available. The updated list may be viewed on the VTA website at www.vabred.org.

As with most benefit auctions, the VTA event serves a purpose beyond buying and selling. It is the sole source of funding for the association, which is the state breed organization in Virginia. If funding the VTA sounds like a narrow goal, consider that for many years Virginia's Thoroughbred owners have shipped countless mares to other states for breeding.

"Virginians, historically, have supported the industry in these other states," said Deane.

Now that Virginia has had its own racetrack, Colonial Downs, since 1997, as well as a state breeding fund, horse owners from other states also are taking advantage of the Virginia's opportunities.

"By keeping the VTA alive, the auction has played a role in bringing live racing to Virginia, and in the creation of the Virginia Breeding Fund," said Deane. "Stallion managers from Virginia and other states have generously supported this auction, and the entire industry has reaped the benefits."

All of the seasons are donated to the auction, and most are sold on a no-guarantee basis. The VTA handles all of the paperwork for buyers, making it a "hassle-free" way to purchase a season, in Deane's words.

Conducting the auction is a major effort, as might be expected. Each year VTA staff and volunteers rally to the cause, manning telephones in the group's Warrenton, Va., headquarters. Prospective buyers call and offer bids. The day after the auction closes, the top three bidders are linked by conference call with an auction representative for a final round.

This year, for the first time, the auction is working in conjunction with the University of Maryland equine studies program and the West Virginia chapter of the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America. Those two groups have secured additional seasons for the auction, and will receive a portion of the proceeds.

There are also financial incentives for stallion season donors.

"This year we plan to distribute between $10,000 and $20,000, on a pro rata basis, as bonuses to individuals who donate seasons," said Deane. "The bonuses will be based on the racetrack earnings of the stallion's offspring in 2003. It's a way to give something back to the stallion owners, but it's more than just a token gesture. In some cases the bonuses may exceed the purchase price of the season."

The auction serves as a "clearinghouse," said Deane. "We're really just a link that brings all of these people together. We have a lot of repeat customers - both buyers and stallion season donors. To me, that says a lot about the value of what we're doing."

The phone number for bidding is (540) 347-4313.

Little Bold John, one of region's elite

The mid-Atlantic region lost one of its all-time great performers Tuesday when the gelding Little Bold John succumbed to colic at age 21.

Pensioned at his birthplace, Weston farm in Upper Marlboro, Md., Little Bold John won 25 stakes races (still a record among Maryland-breds on the flat) while campaigning in the 1980's. He ranks sixth on the list of leading Maryland-bred earners, with $1,956,405.

Bred by Hal C.B. Clagett, Little Bold John (John Alden-Little Bold Sphinx, by Bold Ambition), campaigned throughout most of his career for the late John E. Owens III. He was trained by John J. Robb.