10/13/2005 11:00PM

Brunetti in it for the long haul

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The Brunetti family has been a presence in the Ocala, Fla., Thoroughbred market since 1969, when Joe Brunetti, father of John, bought and developed 200 acres abutting Ocala Stud. Few farms around there remain from that era. Nowadays, only a down-sized Ocala Stud and John Brunetti's Red Oak Farm remain.

John J. Brunetti, known to many as Brunetti, is, as most are aware, the owner of Hialeah Park. Brunetti is also a major league commercial and residential developer and one might have expected him to develop Ocala's Red Oak Farm, sitting as it does in an evolving urban zone.

"There is no intent at this time to develop Red Oak," says Richard Sacco, Red Oak's general manager and Brunetti 's man on the scene. "On the contrary, Mr. Brunetti is refurbishing and upgrading, and Red Oak is operational as a foaling and training complex."

While walking about the 258-acre facility one sees four barns accommodating broodmares, stallions, yearlings and training horses. The training track is a five-eighth-mile oval with a starting gate.

Red Oak Farm, however, is just a few furlongs from the western property line of a newly built high school. The Ocala Hilton is the dominant view looking north. Added to the mix is the Paddock Park residential and business complex to the east.

Red Oak Farm is not the only functioning operation the Brunetti family has in Marion County. Earlier this year, Brunetti bought the 239-acre Good Chance Farm. Good Chance was developed by Ken Opstein, and all through the 1980's and 90's motorists traveling along Interstate 75 could see the immaculate while fences, green pastures and a big sign perched in one of those paddocks that read "Good Chance Farm, Home of Preakness Winner Gate Dancer."

Sacco, hosting a tour of Good Chance Farm, said, "Mr. Brunetti likes things first class."

The barns and fences required repair or replacement. The training track had to be redone. The five-eighth-mile training track was replaced and automatic sprinklers added.

Sacco elaborated: "There are four training barns ranging from 15 stalls to 30 stalls, with 76 stalls in all. One cannot rent stalls, however, at Good Chance, only a barn, and all four barns are or will be leased for the training season."

All employees, both at Red Oak and the Good Chance property, are year-round employees. "An operation needs good people," said Sacco, "and they are not always easy to find, so we do what we can to keep them once we employ them."

Much as Hank Steinbrenner of Kinsman Stud does for his family Thoroughbred operations, the task of evaluating and mating the mares falls to Brunetti's son Steve. The Red Oak broodmare band ranges from 16 to 20 mares. Most mares are booked to Florida stallions, but some, such as the graded stakes winner Strolling Along, are covered in Kentucky. This past breeding season Red Oak mares went to the courts of Belong to Me, Mineshaft, and Stormy Atlantic. All mares, though, return to Florida to foal.

Red Oak has no resident stallion. "We get offers," said Sacco, "but this is a tricky market, and not all horses fit this market."

Sacco then handed over a printout of the Red Oak-owned Sweet Return. A possible Breeders' Cup candidate, Sweet Return has raced 28 times with 7 wins, 5 seconds, 6 thirds, and earnings of $1.5 million. The chestnut 6-year-old is by Elmaamul and out of a mare by Claude Monet.

"He's a three-time Grade 1 stakes winner," said Sacco. "But I don't think, with his little-known pedigree, that he would fit in this market. We'll probably sell him or stand him in Europe or South America."

While the Brunetti team still patronizes yearling and 2-year-old sales, its main successes of late has come with importing proven high-class racehorses. The latest to be added to the stable is Hotesse, a 3-year-old filly who has won 4 of 6, including Chilean graded stakes. A daughter of Indian Lodge (by Chief's Crown), Hotesse is from the family of Fappiano.