05/17/2007 11:00PM

Hickey manages to keep busy

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The yellow and green Irish Acres Farm horse vans no longer roam the highways that link North America's racetracks, but that does not mean Noel Hickey has packed it in. Not by a longshot, he says.

"I'm spending most of my time on the new training center these days," he said. "There's much to be done, and if you want it done right, you have to be hands-on."

The developing training center is located a few miles due west of the first Irish Acres Farm, which was sold a few years back and is now being formed into a hobby horse community.

"Let's see," said Hickey, as he looked over the 150 acres of rolling pastures that make up his Ocala property. "I have a five-furlong dirt track with a starting gate, and it encompasses a four-furlong turf course. I am installing a 1 1/4-mile gallop. The European walker is already in place. I have the parts ordered for a treadmill that will be used primarily to strengthen a horse's hindquarters."

Unlike the original Irish Acres Farm, which was home to a half-dozen stallions, the new Irish Acres will have only the retired stallion Bucksplasher, the sire of Hickey's homebred Eclipse champion Buck's Boy.

"Over there," said Hickey, "is one of Bucky's old girlfriends - Molly's Colleen, dam of Buck's Boy."

She was standing alongside another retiree, Cherry Flare, dam of the Grade 1 stakes winner Take D' Tour. Hickey has let time thin his broodmare band to where only a half-dozen mares remain. And he selects those stallions, be they commercial or otherwise, who he believes will contribute to his racing stable. Active Duty, Concerto, and Marco Bay, are three such stallions whom Hickey will use this year.

Hickey knew and is a great admirer of the legendary Irish trainer Vincent O'Brien.

"Vincent was a great believer in putting a sound bottom under a horse, and that's what I am doing here," he said. "I would not need 1 1/4-mile gallops and treadmills if the goal were just to get a 2-year-old to breeze a furlong in Quarter Horse time. That's not the way I work. So, I have no plans to prepare horses for the 2-year-old sales. For 2-year-old racing, yes, of course, but not to prepare a talented horse to fly a furlong in the wintertime. Then, what do you do with such a 2-year-old when there's no racing for months?"

Hickey's opinion is that 2-year-olds in training should be outside for as long as possible. Horses can get hurt in stalls, he says, but rarely get hurt outside.

"It's natural for them to be out in the open, and here in Florida we can do this year round," he said.

Irish Acres has a 40-stall training barn and close to 20 paddocks.

Hickey still trains for himself and a few longtime patrons; Tampa Bay Downs is about as far away as he is likely to commute.

"I have good friends and colleagues I can send a horse to if the horse belongs in another venue," he said. "My priorities these days are here on the farm."

Winning start for four freshman sires

Four Florida freshman sires are quick off the mark. Considering that the 2-year-old season has yet to begin in some locales, no fewer than nine Florida stallions with first crops going to the races this year have had starters and four of them have sired their first winner. The four with a winner are The Vinery's Trust N Luck, Rising Hill Farm's Awesome of Course, Cloverleaf II's Smooth Jazz, and Hartley/DeRenzo's Full Manadate.

Trust N Luck (by Montbrook) has 48 in his first crop, and has a winner from two starters. Awesome of Course (Awesome Again) has only eight in his first crop and has sired a winner from one starter. Smooth Jazz (Dixieland Band) has a crop of 36 and his only starter is a winner. Full Mandate (A.P. Indy) has 71 in his first crop of 2-year-olds and his first starter is a winner.

Among the older Florida sires with juvenile winners are Exchange Rate, Gibson County, and Snow Ridge; each has sired a pair of winners.