01/27/2005 1:00AM

Currin doing it his way

"When Memorette first hit the ground and we saw how pretty she was, we decided to go back to Memo again, right then and there." - Trainer, owner and breeder William Currin on Memorette.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - William Currin is not your usual racehorse trainer. The wearying search for new owners or the ulcer-inducing phone calls to clients whose horses have disappointed are not for him. Currin is a rare breed at the modern American racetrack: a private trainer who trains only his own horses.

Currin's original career was in construction and real estate development, but horses were his first love. A North Carolina native, he had his first farm, a three- and five-gaited saddle horse stable, at Rancho Mirage, Calif., near Palm Springs. But almost 30 years ago, he and his wife, Betty, got involved in the Thoroughbred business, and they now own 50-acre Oak Tree Farm. The breed may have changed, but the fun hasn't.

And Currin is having a lot of that these days. He comes into the with a strong chance in both California and Florida: He has Memorette in the Sunshine Millions Oaks at Santa Anita and Bushwacker in the Ocala Stud Dash at Gulfstream Park.

That's quite an accomplishment for a man who grew up riding gaited show horses in a state that doesn't even have parimutuel wagering. Currin, now in his mid-60's, trains his own string of 20 horses at Hollywood Park. He has only two "clients," his wife and Al Eisman, his longtime racing partner.

"Oh, he doesn't bother me," Currin joked about Eisman. "But if you give your wife a horse, you become a public trainer."

Actually, it was the other way around. Betty gave Bill a horse, and that horse has turned out to be one of his top runners and helped make 2004 a banner year for the Currin racing stable. That horse is Memorette, a 3-year-old Memo filly whom Betty Currin bred from Forever Fondre.

Memorette comes into the Sunshine Millions Oaks off a 1 1/2-length score in the California Breeders Championship on Dec. 27. Last year, Memorette was runner-up in the Generous Portion Stakes and finished third in the Grade 2 Oak Leaf. She was produced by the mating of the sire Memo with the broodmare Forever Fondre, whose dam, Fondre, is by Key to the Mint.

"We thought that breeding would work nicely," Currin said. "I owned [Fondre] with W. R. Hawn. She was the first Key to the Mint at auction, and I was lucky enough to fall in love with her and buy her.

"Memorette's dam, Forever Fondre, is the last offspring out of Fondre, and she's given us nothing but good horses," he said. "The best part is, the mare is back in foal to Memo. I'm not giving that one to my wife. When Memorette first hit the ground and we saw how pretty she was, we decided to go back to Memo again, right then and there."

Bushwacker, a 3-year-old Outflanker colt, cost just $47,000 at an Ocala Breeders' Sales Company yearling sale, where Currin and bloodstock agent Dick Lossen spotted him. Bushwacker, too, harks back to Currin's past horses, although Currin said he didn't know it when he bought Bushwacker in 2003.

"He was athletic," Currin said. "After I bought him, just on his presence, I found out his third dam is Soldier Girl. I bought her years ago from Desi Arnaz when he dispersed his stock. I sold her, in foal to Wajima, to Tom Gentry when she was 23. When I saw that she was in Bushwacker's pedigree, I thought, 'No wonder he's so fast!' She still holds the track record for five furlongs at Del Mar," he said, referring to Soldier Girl's time of 56.40.

"Bushwacker is a very fast, very strong horse," he said. "I expect big happenings from him."

Bushwacker's most recent start was in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 18, when a slipped saddle caused Rene Douglas to pull him up.

Bushwacker, whom Currin and Eisman own, is nominated to the Triple Crown. If he makes it to the Kentucky Derby this year, it will mark the second time Currin has had a starter in the race. Outta Here ran for him in the 2003 running, finishing seventh behind Funny Cide.

Outta Here got the Currin stable going early this year with a win at Santa Anita on Jan. 13, and could be headed to the Dubai World Cup. He competed there in 2003, finishing fourth in the UAE Derby. "We might go back to Dubai with him again," Currin said. "We're waiting for the invitation."

Currin started his Thoroughbred training career in northern California, where he also was on the board of the old Tanforan racetrack near San Francisco. But as the stable has become more successful, Currin moved to Southern California "to take on the big-timers," Currin said with a laugh. "And now we're taking on the world."

But the stable will always be small, Currin said. "I keep the stable at 20 horses," he said. "I don't want 21, and I don't want 19. I don't want to work that hard."