04/24/2003 12:00AM

Fulton stable growing fast


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Two years after he jumped into racing with a flurry of purchases, Stan Fulton has built a stable that may play an important role in California and across the nation in coming years.

The vital elements are certainly in place.

This year, Fulton, 72, the owner of Sunland Park in New Mexico, has a 50-strong stable of 2- and 3-year-olds that he compiled in 23 months.

"Rome wasn't built in a day," he said recently from his vacation home in Newport Beach, Calif. "You don't build a racing stable in a year. My plan was to buy yearlings and 2-year-olds in training and not older horses.

"It takes time to get it working. I think we're heading in the right direction."

In 2002, the stable's first full year, Fulton had six stakes winners - Cherokee's Disco, Crackup, Gralley, Roll Hennessy Roll, Stormy Forever, and Sum Trick.

The roster of stakes winners could grow on Saturday when Ela Ela starts in the $200,000 Melair Stakes on the California Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park.

Purchased at the 2001 Del Mar yearling sale for $165,000, she is a full-sister to Go Go, a five-time stakes winner and the California-bred champion sprinter of 2001.

In her most recent start, Ela Ela was second in the $250,000 WinStar Oaks at Sunland Park on March 29, at one mile her first stakes race around two turns. The Melair Stakes for statebreds is over 1 1/16 miles. "She'll give an honest effort," Fulton said. "I think the distance will suit her."

The purchase and early career path of Ela Ela is typical of Fulton's approach to the sport. She is well-bred on a regional level, but Fulton doesn't hesitate to buy well-bred horses on a national level. Last week at the Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in training, he paid $850,000 for a colt by El Prado.

Ela Ela began her career in New Mexico and raced at Hollywood Park last summer. After suffering an injury, she returned to racing earlier this year at Santa Anita. Ela Ela lost her first two starts, but rebounded with a five-length victory in an allowance race for California-breds over 1 1/16 miles on March 6.

Of Fulton's other runners, Crackup is the best known. A California-bred, Crackup had an outstanding campaign at 2, winning the California Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita in November and the Great State Challenge Juvenile at Sam Houston Race Park a month later.

Setting out on the Kentucky Derby trail this spring, Crackup was unplaced in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in March and has been turned out.

Since his involvement in racing began, Fulton has been advised by bloodstock agents Eric Anderson of Santa Rosa, Calif., and Tim McMurry of Lexington, Ky.

With a sizable stable, Fulton has spread his runners across the country, with trainers Rafael Becerra and Bruce Headley in California, O.D. Jamison in New Mexico, David Carroll in Kentucky, and James Toner in New York.

Becerra trains Ela Ela and Crackup, while Jamison had Ela Ela earlier this year. Fulton also has a training center near Sunland Park where many of the young horses are sent for breaking and early training.

"We're headed in the right direction," Fulton said.

Fulton's sporting interest has developed only in the last few years. In business, he started in the cable television industry with his father in the 1950's, building systems in Pennsylvania.

Fulton diversified his business interests into apartments in Las Vegas in 1970 and moved there in 1975. He considers Las Vegas home, but spends part of the year in Newport Beach.

An interest in the gaming industry led to the purchase of Sunland Park in New Mexico, located just west of El Paso.

Since adding slot machines, Sunland Park's purses have risen as has its quality of racing. As a result, the track is able to export its simulcast signal to more venues, which in turn has led to an enhancement of purses to record levels for New Mexico racing.

Last month, Sunland Park hosted its richest Thoroughbred race, the $500,000 WinStar Derby.

Fulton expects further growth at Sunland Park, especially through simulcasting.

"I think we're getting a good reputation," he said. "We do run full fields."

Owning a racetrack was the start of an involvement that led to the growing stable. In coming years, Fulton's green and blue silks could become quite familiar.

"I always said I was too smart to own a racehorse," he said. "But I love them. I do love the horses."