WINTER PLACE FARM is the place along Rt. 50 near Salisbury where, as you were driving home from Ocean City, you caught a glimpse of a huge barn with a vast picture window through which you thought you saw three ("Chandeliers? Were those chandeliers in that barn, Honey?") but you were tired and sunburned and the kids were snarling in the back seat and you didn't go back for another look.

You should have gone back. There isn't another place like Winter Place anyplace east of Dallas, unless Fort Worth is east of Dallas.

Despite the name, Winter Place is not where developer James Bradley Caine goes to live in the winter. But then neither does he spend the summer at his beach house at Ocean City, the one that is built right out there on the beach, so that the surf breaks around its pilings at high tide.

For all anyone outside his circle of friends or associates knows, Caine may live in a tent somewhere, he works as hard at keeping his person private as he does at publicizing his name and his game.

A reporter who once spent three weeks trying to talk to Caine about his Ocean City real estate operations came away with three words, the first two of which were "Go away." There are lots of telephone nembers at which Cine cannot be reached and from which he does not call back, even when Sports Illustrated is doing a multipage spread on Winter Place.

The horse farm, into which Cine's Montergo Bay Development Corp. is said to have sunk some $12 million, is easier to catalog than describe, although various spokespersons give acreage figures ranging from 550 to over 1,000. Eleven miles of fencing with all concrete posts; a Grand Prixjumping course; a haof-mile asphalt gokart track; a fieldstone blacksmith shop; garages and houses for staff; heated, humidfied, air-conditioned and carpeted stalls for 110 hourses, with electric flytraps; a sales barn; a gift shop; a karate barn (yes); and a large museum with five doxen antique carriages, all meticulously restored, in governess' cart, a horse-drawn pumper, and RFD mail wagon, a winecellar cart, a medicne show wagon, a stagecoach and the chariot of King George III.

All of the above are for sale for $7.5 million or best offer according to the Washington office of Previews, Inc., the real estate firm that deals in such things as castles in California and former President's houses.

"Jim Caine just called us and said sell it," a previews spokeswoman siad. "The whole thing, horses and tack and carriages included. It's concluded. It's conducive for investement, for a horse operation, or for a tax writeoff." Winter Place is in its fifth tax year, the point at which the Internal Revenue Service says if you're not making money your business is really a hobby and no deductions are allowed.

The centerpiece and pivotal selling point is, of course, that chandeliered show ring, which at 225 by 175 feet is almost twice as big as madison Square Garden's and would accomodate a two-ring circus, except that after the Caines and a few guests sat down it would be standing room only. There's practivally no seating.

The building is a horse lover's dream in nightmare proportions. The effect on the visitor is created not so much by the size as by the details. Where one great chandelier might have been a marvelous antic touch, there are three; and along the rows of stalls there are doxens of smaller ones. Tacked above the entrance are huge carriage lamps, and inside, a smaller one at each stall. Whirlpool baths the size of swimming pools make sense for delicate and expensive horseflesh, but in mirrors ?

Here and there are dusty plastic flowers a fountain with a plaster statue, a take-bronze zodiac wheel. "But beneath the gilding," as SI put it, "there is a lily of a horse barn."

"Makes you wonder what the hell was going on in the man's mind when he built this place," said Andrew Scoggins, a retired Vermont farmer who stopped to tour Winter Place on his way home from Florida last week. "Until I saw this I used to say a man can't take too good care of his horses."

If Caine won't talk about what was running through his mind, everyone else in the horse world does. "It's a whim," said one. His daughter went through that thing young girls get about horses and he just went wild."

Could be, Bobby Baker, the former Senate factotum/fixer and founder of the Carousel Motel at Ocean City, swears Caine built that beach house next to the motel" just to spite me. He tried to sell me the property and I wouldn't pay his price so he decided to (blip) up my beach. He doesn't live there, he just comes by every once a while and sits out on the sun deck so I can see him."

"Winter Place just shows how far a great deal of money will take very little taste," sniffed a Virginia horsewoman. "But you have to admit that Ronnie beard has trained some very fine horses down there. It's a shame about that financial mess."

"That financial mess," which led to Winter Place being banned for a year from events sponsored by the Virginia Horse Show Association and nearly kept current stable star Southside out of the Montreal Olympics, involved bounced checks for entry fees and various services. "Almost everyone on the horse circuit has a juicy Winter Place story to relay," commented Horse play magazine in November.

"But that's all been taken care of," Beard said. "The checks were made good, and an arbiter lifted the suspension. There are problems here because of all the different things they're trying to do, the museum and everything. As a straight-out horse operation it could be very sound."

That's about all Beard, 31, would say about Winter Place, where he has been the trainer since Caine began building the farm in 1972. "I'm allowed to say," he said. "He's hard to get to sometimes. Yes, I guess it does sound like I'm working for Howard Hughes."

There are compensations. Beard zips around the farm at what appears to be a frantic pace, but he does the zipping in a lemon-yellow Mercedes 450.

Caine spent money lavishly at the beginning, buying "made" horses already of champion caliber that sometimes swept whole classes at horse shows. The ones beard has brought along, including Southside, Jet Run, Gozzi, and the rising Eli. are doing as well or better the trophy room has overflowed and "we don't even bother bringing them home any more," Beard said.

Beard is willing to talk to any prospective buyer of Winter Place, but emphasizes that "I don't necessarily go with the farm. There are lots of other things to do in this life and I'd like to try some of them."