One way to participate in a piece of the thoroughbred action is through publicly traded stock. There aren't a lot of equity opportunities in the industry, but there are a few. They range from small outfits like Colorado-based Blue Grass Breeders Inc., a small public stock company, to the world-renowned Spendthrift Farm Inc. in Kentucky.

Launched with a $2.4-million initial public offering in 1983, Blue Grass's strategy is to breed top-quality brood mares to top-echelon studs, and to sell the offspring exclusively at the select summer yearling auctions. It owns five brood mares, three yearlings, and three two-year-olds, along with a majority interest in two brood mares and two yearlings that are owned by a limited partnership. Maintaining a personal touch with its investors, the company sent out birth announcements when a Seattle Slew-sired foal was born in January, proudly announcing "Everything is on straight."

Why did Blue Grass choose the equity route? "Our aim is to provide investors with a return on their investment -- which is often difficult with the high commissions some limited partnerships require," says Douglas A. Sykes, the company's secretary. Blue Grass's over-the-counter stock traded early this year for between 6 cents and 9 cents a share. In February, though, the stockholders approved a 20:1 reverse split, reducing the shares outstanding from about 40 million to around 2 million and upping the stock's price to a probable $1.25 to $1.65 range.

Spendthrift Farm, which went public last year, is one of the world's largest breeding and racing farms. It boasts a 2,350-acre training center in Lexington and another, smaller facility at Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa, Fla. Spendthrift, in additiort to owning part or all of 200 brood mares, holds an interest in 42 stallions "standing at stud" at the farm. Eight of the stallions are champions; their ranks include Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Raise A Native, sire of 65 stakes winners.

Spendthrift went public when owners Leslie Combs II and his son, Brownell Combs II, decided they needed new capital for debt retirement and expansion. The 650,000-share IPO -- underwritten by the Los Angeles brokerage firm of Bateman Eichler, Hill Richards Inc. -- has been followed by issues of debentures and stock warrants, with Prudential-Bache joining Bateman as the major underwriter. Spendthrift's stock, traded over the counter, recently sold for $6.75 a share, down from an initial offering price of $12. But the drop doesn't necessarily mean it is an also-ran: Phil Callif, a partner with the accounting firm Deloitte Haskins & Sells, points out that an asset-building company like Spendthrift has to be seen as a long-term investment. "Spendthrift should definitely be considered an asset play," he says, "rather than an income play."