11/14/2002 12:00AM

'Forced' into racing - and doing just fine

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Fred and Jane Brei of Jacks or Better Farm didn't intend to be in the Florida Million.

When they bought their 89-acre Ocala, Fla., farm in 1996, the Breis planned to breed Thoroughbreds for the auction ring. But the market didn't offer them what they believed their stock was worth, so the Breis took their yearlings back and decided to race them. That, in a nutshell, is how tiny Jacks or Better Farm unexpectedly became one of Florida's leading home breeders, with two top contenders in the inaugural Florida Million juvenile races: stakes winner Hear No Evil in the $150,000 Jack Price Juvenile and stakes-placed Crimson and Roses in the $150,000 Joe O'Farrell Juvenile Fillies.

"It's strictly by accident," Brei said. "We would rather have sold these horses and been successful commercially. We really wanted the farm, the mares, and the babies, and not to be so involved in racing. But when we got forced into racing by the market, it turned out pretty well. Breeding is still our emphasis, but we're involved in racing more and more because we've been fortunate enough to get some good horses."

This year, the best of those horses are Hear No Evil and Crimson and Roses. Hear No Evil, a Carson City colt, is already a stakes winner, thanks to his score in Calder's Criterium Stakes. Crimson and Roses, by El Prado, is stakes placed, having finished second in the J j'sdream Stakes at Calder. The two are Jacks or Better's only stakes performers this year, but they represent a healthy 14 percent of the program's current juvenile crop.

"This has been a fairyland-type year," said Fred Brei, a retired developer. "We have about 20 to 25 broodmares and we try like hell to get 20 babies a year. This year's crop of 2-year-olds, there were 14 of them, so we've been fortunate with our stakes percentage."

Brei often uses the word "fortunate" to describe Jacks or Better's successful program. Certainly they have had some good luck, which is a welcome commodity in any breeding operation. The Breis got Hear No Evil's dam, the unraced Cox's Ridge mare Nizy, as part of a seven-mare package from Ocala's High Mark Farm about five years ago.

The John Franks-bred mare didn't appear to be a standout at first.

"About six months after we bought her, one of her foals became a stakes winner, which was delightful," Brei said. "That was Home on the Ridge. That made Nizy a keeper."

Hear No Evil was a keeper, too, partly because of a strange ear problem that kept him out of the auction ring and gave him his name. The colt developed persistent blood blisters in his ears that required aggressive treatment.

"They were a mess," Brei said of the colt's ears. "It took more than one surgery to get rid of the problem, and then we had to tape up his ears like a dog who's had his ears cropped. His ears lopped over like a hound's. We decided that if the other horses were laughing at him, he probably couldn't hear them speaking evil, and that's how he got his name."

Flower Garden, the dam of Crimson and Roses, also proved to be more valuable than she first appeared. When the Breis bought her for $25,000 at the 1997 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company October sale, they liked her conformation but understood her pedigree was lacking.

"Her dam had gone to Japan years ago and hadn't been heard from since, so there was a black hole in her pedigree," Brei said. "We bought her from Bridlewood Farm, and I talked to a fellow who had worked there for years and remembered the dam, and he thought she was a nice mare. But the black hole created a little difficulty in booking Flower Garden to a top stallion."

Brei said he talked Adena Springs into letting them breed the mare to El Prado because he was sending several other mares to Adena stallions the same year. The result was Crimson and Roses.

If Hear No Evil and Crimson and Roses happen to win on Million Day, those victories may help return Jacks or Better to the sale ring with plenty of fanfare. But, Brei says, the original policy still will apply.

"We will still sell a top horse for a fair dollar," Brei said. "But we won't give them away."