04/10/2003 11:00PM

Fla. breeding: Choosing pasture over parking lots


On Tuesday, the Marion County Commissioners, five in all, will vote to grant Eugene and Laura Melnyk's request to zone their Winding Oaks Farm property for agricultural purposes only. This request for a change in zoning bucks the Ocala-area trend of selling horse farms for commercial development.

Winding Oaks Farm is the third Thoroughbred facility on the land, covering approximately 1,100 acres, which was originally Tartan Farms. When Tartan Farms closed shop in 1987, Harry T. Mangurian Jr. bought the property and renamed it Mockingbird Farm. At the time, the farm was zoned for agriculture. It was Mangurian, himself a developer, who had 698 acres rezoned for planned unit development.

Mangurian, however, changed his mind and did not execute plans to develop a residential community within a golf course. Melnyk bought Mockingbird Farm last year for a reported $13.9 million, and he wants all the acreage zoned for agricultural purposes.

Ed Szekely, a consultant to the Melnyks, said, "The plan is to keep this as a racing operation and not turn it into a golf course or development."

Winding Oaks Farm is the last of the original colony of Thoroughbred farms and training facilities on Florida's busy State Road 200.

The late Carl Rose's Rosemere Farm, now a shopping complex, was once a neighbor. Rosemere Farm was the first Thoroughbred facility in the Ocala area. Sections of the original Ocala Stud, together with Heath Farm, Dudley Farm, Golden Chance Farm, and a host of other smaller farms that bordered State Road 200, have all been sold for development.

Catherine Cavalier is the assistant county property appraiser. She said that a change in zoning for Winding Oaks will not alter the farm's tax rate.

Said Szekely, "This is a postcard farm, and the boss feels good about having it stay that way."

More Millions next year

The Florida Million, the Sunshine Millions, and the Florida Cup events will all be renewed next year, according to Dick Hancock, executive vice-president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association. The Florida Million Day will be hosted by Calder Race Course in mid-November. The Sunshine Millions, to be run at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita, will have its second running next January. The Florida Cup series of six $75,000 stakes (Florida-breds preferred) hosted by Tampa Bay Downs will be renewed in April.

"We are very pleased with the overall program," said Hancock. "I was at Tampa Bay Downs this past Sunday for the first Florida Cup events day, and the track had its second-best attendance of the year and its second-best handle.

"Having the event in April gave us a big day that otherwise we would not have had," said Peter Berube, general manager of Tampa Bay Downs. "So, yes, it will be back next April."

VLT's still possible

Enabling legislation to permit video lottery terminals at parimutuel facilities is still alive in Tallahassee. The Florida Senate, with the support of its president, has given the green light to a VLT bill. The Florida House, however, led by conservatives, many of whom have Native American casinos in their backyards, is opposed. The Florida House and Senate may hit an impasse over the state budget, which by law must be balanced. This impasse may require one or more special sessions, and proponents of VLT's hope that at one of these special sessions a compromise will be reached and VLT's will be part of the mix.

Governor Jeb Bush has indicated that he is opposed to the perceived proliferation of gambling. But, like many of his anti-gambling predecessors, the governor could let the legislation become law without his signature.

Works for OBS sale

The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's April auction of 2-year-olds in training, to be held April 22-25, has four days of under-tack shows this week. The sessions begin on Wednesday at 9 a.m. and are continuous through Saturday. The schedule calls for those selling the first day of the sale to work the first day of the under-tack shows, horses selling the second day work the second day, and so forth. Time trials will be posted on the OBS web site.