08/05/2005 12:00AM

For Hickey, a new farm and outlook


Noel Hickey of Irish Acres Farm has been keeping a low profile lately.

"Did not want to say anything definitive until I had something to say," he said.

Now that he is settled in at his relocated Irish Acres, Hickey is ready to talk.

The original Irish Acres Farm, a 300-plus-acre farm and training complex, is gone - sold for subdivision. The creep of urban development was steadily advancing, and Hickey thought the time had come, after some 35 years, to sell and move on.

The new Irish Acres Farm, situated a few miles north of Ocala and five miles west of the old one, is half the size of the original and backs onto the Starting Gate Training Complex.

"I've cut back," said Hickey, "and my new plan is to keep a broodmare band of 15 or so, to breed to race, sell ex-stable, and accommodate longtime clients."

Hickey's breeding program will have to be reconstituted, as two of the farm's stallions, Tour d'Or and That's a Nice, have passed on.

"I still have Bucky," Hickey noted.

Bucky is Bucksplasher, a horse that Hickey bought at the Saratoga horses in training sale a quarter-century ago. Bucksplasher never won a stakes, but did finish second in the Grade 2 Gotham Stakes. This was when Norcliffe, like Bucksplasher by Buckpasser and out of a Northern Dancer mare, was among Florida's leading sires, and Hickey hoped to duplicate the success of Norcliffe.

Bucksplasher did not disappoint. He has sired some 500 foals, and approximately 400 of them made the races, and 48 (12 percent) have won or placed in stakes. Among these is Buck's Boy, winner of the 1998 Breeders' Cup Turf and the Eclipse Award that year as top grass horse. Bucksplasher has also made his mark as a broodmare sire.

"Bucky is now a private stallion, and I'll send him 8 or 10 mares, and the rest I'll breed to stallions who, hopefully, will get me racehorses," Hickey said. "I have rarely patronized the 2-year-olds in training sales, so that gives me all sorts of options. If a homebred needs the time, he gets it. I'm in no hurry; you can't hurry nature."

Tour d'Or, a grandson of Secretariat, was another rags to riches success who stood at stud for Hickey. Tour d'Or raced most of his career with suspect tendons, yet he won three stakes and placed in five more. One of his better years racing was in 1990, when, at the age of 8, he won two stakes and placed in two, including the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Tour d'Or contracted a gut infection in mid-July. After adding laminitis to his woes, he was sent to the University of Florida, where he died.

Another of Hickey's stallions, That's a Nice, who died two years ago, was the last of the Noholme II line standing in Florida. That's a Nice was still siring a few foals a year through age 28. He was, Hickey will tell you, his favorite racehorse and stallion.

"I had That's a Nice from the beginning," he said. "He was a grand racehorse and later a successful sire. He is the sire of Lady Shirl, a Grade 1 stakes winner whom I bred and raced. Lady Shirl is the dam of the currently unbeaten stakes winner Shakespeare."

Hickey has come to the point where he no longer feels the lure of traveling. His stable at one time was a stable on wheels. Hickey's Irish Acres Farm-marked vans were familiar sights on the interstate. For more than a decade, the tack was packed, the horses oiled, and the vans left each spring for Arlington Park. He also stabled at Oaklawn, Woodbine, Gulfstream, Suffolk Downs, and points between.

"I've run a few horses at Calder this summer," he said, "but when it comes to travel, unless I have another Buck's Boy- or Lady Shirl-caliber horse, if I need to go out of state, I'll ship them to another trainer."

The new Irish Acres Farm is not home to Hickey and his wife, Bobby. Their home is in the township of Mackintosh, about a 20-minute ride from the farm. The new Irish Acres Farm is being developed more for function than aesthetics. Hickey has built his training barn, laid out his paddocks, designed a turf course, and when he wants to give his charges racetrack experience, he walks them over to the Starting Gate Training Complex where he has leased a barn.

"Got to keep busy, you know," he said.

* Catalogs for the five-day Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's yearling auction, Aug. 22-26, are in the mail. The selected session, Aug. 22, has 280 cataloged, plus 42 yearlings selected by Farnsworth Farms as part of phase 1 of its complete dispersal. The open sale of yearlings immediately following has 1,176 cataloged, and included in this number are the remaining Farnsworth Farms yearlings. Starting time for all five sessions is 11 a.m.