02/18/2005 1:00AM

Breeder set sights on Ocala years ago


There are many paths that can lead one to the Thoroughbred industry. Eddie Martin of Martin Stables South has taken several of them. Martin's roots stem from an Indiana family that has considerable experience with another kind of horsepower: automobiles and Nascar.

"The family business is Ford dealerships in central Indiana," Martin said. "I, of course, initially developed an interest in Nascar - my dad sponsored a racing team at Indy."

It was young romance, however, that took him to the horse world. He had a crush on a girl who was an Army brat; she tended a stable near Indiana's Fort Harrison, and if he wanted to date her, he had to help with the stable chores.

"Learned how to muck out a stall early on," he said. "Then, we bought some horses and began to show them. It was a labor of love."

Martin eventually broke up with his girlfriend. But his affection for horses continued, and when another friend introduced him to Quarter Horse racing, another path to Thoroughbreds opened up. Martin raced Quarter Horses for several years and made his first trip to Ocala, also a major Quarter Horse hub, in 1983. He liked what he saw and began to make regular trips there.

He was on just such a trip in 1986 when he was touted on a Thoroughbred filly, reputed to be speedy, in training at the Post Time Training Center. Martin went over to see her, liked her, and bought her. The filly was named Sixty Special, and she made her debut in a stakes race in Michigan and won.

"'What an easy game,' I thought," said Martin, who soon began racing a modest stable around a Midwest circuit of Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. "I just couldn't get Ocala out of my mind. I liked the area, the people, and the environment. I thought it was like Lexington, Kentucky, only with better weather."

Martin bought a 40-acre farm in Ocala, but he sold it in 1994 when the auto business required his full attention.

As a gubernatorial appointee in Indiana - he served under several governors - Martin was instrumental in establishing the state's breeders' and stallion premium programs, which, he says, he adopted from the Florida awards programs. He later served on the Indiana Racing Commission.

Under Indiana statutes, commissioners could not race in Indiana, but Martin continued operating a modest stable in the surrounding states.

During this time, Martin's interest in returning to Ocala and starting a farm never wavered. And so, when Walter Burke's Valley View Farm came on the market, Martin bought it last year, along with some adjacent land for a total of more than 200 acres. Martin had joined the ranks of Marion County commercial breeders.

"I looked at the way Mike Sherman's Farnsworth Farms does business, and I studied the success of Harry T. Mangurian Jr.," Martin said. "Can't argue with success."

His goal is to breed a quality racehorse. Sometimes, he is quick to say, nature tosses you a curve and you can't or don't want to sell into the market. Those are the horses he will race; otherwise, everything is for sale. Martin has acquired a broodmare band of 67, and he is a firm believer in Equix Biomechanics, a company that uses computer analysis to measure horse performance and potential.

"Equix does the studies," he said, "and I make the decisions."

Martin has two young stallions in Spanish Steps and Conscience Clear. Spanish Steps is an unraced full brother to Unbridled's Song. Martin bought him as soon as he learned the horse was on the market. Conscience Clear is a stakes-placed 8-year-old homebred (Relaunch-Gotta Wear Shades, by Kris S.) that Martin raced for two years after buying him back for $160,000 as a yearling. Conscience Clear had injured his rear suspensory, and Martin had disclosed the injury before the sale at Saratoga.

"My conscience was clear," he said. "I could have cosmetically concealed the suspensory damage, but as my grandfather told me some years back: Your reputation is everything. And added that you can shear a sheep every year, but only skin 'em once."