08/27/2007 11:00PM

A daughter also rises to the top

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Thoroughbred racing has turned into a completely different game in the last decade for Marsha Naify.

In the late 1990s, the sport was something of an escape, a weekend getaway to watch horses owned by the 505 Farms of her father, Marshall Naify. At the time, Marsha Naify was an executive with her father's theater projection company.

A decade later, she has reached the top of the sport - as an executive and horse owner. As the operator of a small and elite racing stable, Marsha Naify still enjoys a day at the races, at least when she's not fulfilling her role as the chairwoman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California or as a member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association board of directors.

Today, there is time for both sides of racing in her life, along with the management of a real estate holdings company in Long Beach, Calif.

"I could look at real estate all day long," she said on a recent afternoon at Del Mar. Naify admits the same could be said about racing. "Whatever I do, I love."

Last week, as a racing executive, she spoke at the California Horse Racing Board meeting that extensively discussed the sport's future in California. This weekend, as a horse owner, she is aiming for the winner's circle of the $400,000 Del Mar Derby with the French import Stoneside.

It would not be the first time since she launched her own stable in 2000, shortly after the death of her father, that Naify has won the Del Mar Derby. Along with her sister Christina Naify-Zilber, Naify won the race in 2004 with Blackdoun. In recent years, her stable has also included the major stakes winners Amorama, Dublino, and the current handicap star Surf Cat. They have all worn her late father's familiar blue-and-white vertically striped silks, which Marsha Naify retained.

Stoneside may go favored in the Del Mar Derby, and expectations are high from Naify and new trainer Julio Canani that the colt can win his U.S. debut. In France, Stoneside won a listed stakes in May and finished second in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat on July 8. He arrived at Canani's stable shortly after the Del Mar meeting opened on July 18.

"We hope this horse is the real deal," Naify said. "He's been very good on the turf. I've watched him work and he's got an easy motion. He's got a beautiful style."

Surf Cat is proven. A four-time stakes winner who has earned $682,420, he finished second in the Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar on Aug.o19 and will make his next start in the $250,000 Oak Tree Mile on Oct.o7. The race will be the 5-year-old horse's first on turf. Trained by Bruce Headley, Surf Cat has the newly created $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Monmouth Park on Oct. 26 as a long-term goal, Naify said.

"We've had a tough decision as to where to run him," Naify said. "Bruce decided we'll run him in the Oak Tree Mile. That will be interesting, to see how he does on the turf."

Selvatica, purchased by Naify for $560,000 at the Barretts January mixed sale and trained by Canani, is bound for the $200,000 Endine Stakes at Delaware Park on Sept. 8. Tribal Star, a Tribal Rule colt purchased for $430,000 at the Barretts May sale of 2-year-olds in training, is nearing his debut in coming weeks for Headley.

"Bruce isn't known for his 2-year-olds, but this is an exception," Naify said.

The barn has emphasized quality since it was formed. "She's good to work for," Canani said. "She's a doll."

Naify, who lists her age as "a trade secret, only my mother knows," worked for her father's company after leaving the University of Southern California in the early 1970s.

Marshall Naify campaigned such well-known horses as the multiple stakes winner Manistique and Bertrando, the 1993 champion older male, whom he owned in partnership. He died of complications from an operation in April 2000, which Marsha Naify described as "unexpected."

A dispersal of Marshall Naify's racing holdings was held that summer, and Marsha Naify bought a few of the family's horses, launching her involvement in racing.

A few years ago, while perusing a list of her family's old horses on the Internet, Naify noticed that some were running for low-level claiming prices. She claimed and retired them to a Southern California horse rehabilitation farm in Pasadena, Calif., operated by former exercise rider Wendi Stone.

The list of rehabilitated horses includes Top Honours - "the first horse I won with in 2000," Naify said - and High Wire Act and I've Decided, who were owned by her father. The horses are rested and then conditioned as jumping or riding horses. Some have been sold.

"It's expensive, but if you make the initial investment, it's no more expensive than the training bill," she said of the rehabilitation.

Last month, Naify spoke before the state racing board, campaigning for owners to redirect 0.3 percent of purse earnings toward equine retirement foundations. The proposal is several months from being enacted.

Plenty of other issues face the sport, and Naify lists many that need attention.

"Racing needs to get with the 21st century," she said. "Technology-wise, we're behind. We need to step up and work with the tracks, get more people here, work on medication issues, drug testing, create fan interest, marketing, promote our stars, the horses, owners, trainers, and jockeys."

Those problems will take time to solve. Rooting for a second career win in the Del Mar Derby for a little less than two minutes late Sunday afternoon will be easier.