10/08/2001 11:00PM

A festival of Franks horses


The influence five-time Eclipse Award winner John Franks has had on racing in Louisiana will be evident Saturday and Sunday during the fourth annual Breeders' Festival at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La. A number of horses competing in the two-day program of eight statebred stakes will be owned or bred by Franks, or will be the offspring of stallions he stands in Louisiana.

Franks, whose nationwide breeding and racing operation numbers about 540 horses, has had a presence in Louisiana racing for the past 20 years. He won his first race in 1980 at Louisiana Downs, and has since been the state's leading breeder eight times. He has also bred 11 state champions, including Dixie Poker Ace, who ranked as the richest Louisiana-bred in history, with $850,127 in earnings, until being unseated in the last few years by millionaire Scott's Scoundrel.

Franks stands seven stallions at different farms in Louisiana, and of his 120 horses in training, 40 are based in the state. He is currently tied atop the Louisiana Downs owner standings with Marc Lawrence, and were he to win the title this meet it would give him his 18th championship at the track since 1982.

Through the year, Franks has won a record 144 stakes at Louisiana Downs, including 20 runnings of the eight stakes that have been grouped together the last three years to make up the Breeders' Festival. This year, he could be represented in as many as six of the eight stakes scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

Franks, who owns Franks Petroleum, Inc., in Shreveport, La., got bit by the breeding bug watching one of the first mares he owned, Alta's Lady, produce five stakes winners, including Louisiana-bred champion Blissful Union, who earned $473,410.

"I had really got into [the sport] just as a hobby, but when Alta's Lady became a multiple stakes producer, that was the start of it all," said Franks. "I became really interested."

Franks's broodmare band has since grown to 400, although he is in the process of selling some of those mares and hopes to cut back to about 100-150 head. On average, Franks has 50 to 60 homebreds competing each week at tracks throughout North America, and overall, stallions he owns are represented by about 120 to 130 starters each week. In addition to his seven stallions in Louisiana, he stands 11 stallions at his 1,100-acre Franks Farms in Ocala, Fla., as well as two in New York, and one in Texas.

Franks, who currently ranks as the nation's eighth leading owner by wins, was awarded the Eclipse in 1983, 1984, 1993, and 1994 as the nation's outstanding owner. His homebred Answer Lively, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, gave him a fifth Eclipse in 1998 when he was voted champion 2-year-old. Before the Breeders' Cup, the colt won the Sport of Kings Futurity at Louisiana Downs.

Franks will be active Thursday at Louisiana Downs, with three horses in, including Nelta, who is out of the mare Alta's Princess. Alta's Princess was one of the stakes winners produced by Alta's Lady.

Prep for Champions Day

The Breeders' Festival is being run later this year than its past three runnings, which have all been in September. "I like the idea that Louisiana Downs has moved it back to the middle of October," said Tom Early of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders' Association. "It gives people a chance to prep for Champions Day at Fair Grounds." Champions Day at Fair Grounds is made up of six statebred stakes Dec. 8.