02/10/2006 1:00AM

Because of Close Up, C & R is in the spotlight


Carlo De Thomasi wasn't looking for a racehorse when he claimed Close Up, an allowance-winning son of Capote, for $22,500 at The Meadowlands in October 2000.

"I saw his pedigree and figured he'd be a terrific sire for New Jersey," said De Thomasi.

A grandson of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire mare Videogenic, Close Up was still 100 percent sound and "full of fire," according to De Thomasi.

But rather than risk the future of his then 4-year-old stud prospect, De Thomasi shipped him directly to his C & R Horse Farm in Milmay, N.J.

The wisdom of that move became apparent last year, when Joey P., from Close Up's first crop, emerged as one of the East Coast's top 3-year-olds.

Bred and owned by De Thomasi's friend John Petrini, Joey P. won the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup as well as the Friendly Lover Handicap and Rutgers Stakes for season's earnings of $267,509. The second-leading New Jersey-bred earner of 2005, Joey P. has amassed $324,749 in his 10 career starts.

Although Close Up (out of the stakes-producing Fappiano mare Video Piano) attracted a relatively small books of mares in his first several seasons, De Thomasi expects to breed him to as many as 50 mares this season. That level of popularity is held by few New Jersey sires.

The up-and-coming young stallion has also become the cornerstone of a new era at C & R Horse Farm, a 100-acre facility named for Carlo De Thomasi and his wife, Renee. Until now, C & R's stallion operation has been low-key, with a succession of mostly forgettable sires covering small books of mares.

For 2006, the farm will stand not only Close Up, but two additional stallions - Flying Pidgeon and Fastness.

Flying Pidgeon (1981, Upper Case-Miss Minnesota, by Minnesota Mac) is a Grade 1-winning millionaire and proven sire who has stood in the Mid-Atlantic region for many years.

Fastness (1990, Rousillon-City Fortress, by Troy) also won multiple Grade 1 stakes, earning more than $1.5 million. His offspring from six crops of racing age include Canadian champion Le Cinquieme Essai.

"I feel like our success is just starting to show," said De Thomasi. "We've had some nice horses here and there, but the business has taken off, thanks to Close Up."

De Thomasi is a restaurateur by profession, his Five Points Inn occupying two locations in the town of Vineland, N.J. But he recently relinquished much of the day-to-day management of the restaurants in order to make the farm his full-time occupation.

C & R Farm has traditionally housed about 15 broodmares, along with youngsters being readied to race as homebreds - all owned by De Thomasi. But the numbers have expanded for 2006, with the purchase of 10 broodmares, all selected as potential mates for Close Up.

With his opportunities expanded, Close Up is on track to become the leading sire in New Jersey, De Thomasi believes.

A native of Italy, where he grew up in the town of Abruzzi, De Thomasi came to the U.S. with his family at age 14, and built up various businesses on his own and with his brother. He bought the property on which C & R Farm is located about 20 years ago, and gradually became involved with breeding and racing.

"The farm kept growing," he said. "We built a 20-stall barn, and added onto it, and it's now 40 stalls."

De Thomasi campaigns horses throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, with trainers Cal Lynch and Ben Perkins Jr. in New Jersey, Steve Rowan at Philadelphia Park, Ronney Brown at Charles Town, and Linda Clement at Penn National.

His ultimate dream is to win the Kentucky Derby or a Breeders' Cup race - and if the runner happens to be sired by a C & R stallion, all the better.