12/23/2001 1:00AM

Hideaway: From conception to first breeze

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Gary and Marlene Howard bought a 20-acre farm in San Jacinto, Calif., in 1989, their dream was to live the Thoroughbred lifestyle and give their children the experience of growing up on a working horse farm.

A little more than a decade later, the Howards have accomplished that and more. They've also built a thriving full-service breeding and training operation, Hideaway Farms, that covers two farms and a total of 94 acres. Recently, Hideaway gained attention by striking deals with the Maktoum family to stand two blue-blooded stallions that may take Hideaway to a new level of quality: Madraar, a Mr. Prospector half-brother to Breeders' Cup Turf winner Fantastic Light, and Dumaani, a millionaire son of Danzig.

The Howards and their partners bought Madraar from Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum in Dubai, where the horse won 7 of 18 starts. The farm will lease Dumaani from Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum's Shadwell Farm in Lexington, Ky., for a three-year term.

Dumaani will stand for $5,000, but Madraar is currently in training in northern California and has yet to receive a fee assignment.

"It's kind of a prestigious thing to have happen to us," Gary Howard said recently. "It's been great dealing with the Maktoums. Their word is like gold. So I guess now we're the West Coast distributor of Dubai horses."

Even Howard seems a little surprised to find the farm in that position, especially in an era when well-bred but affordable stallion prospects are hard to come by. And the two newest additions to the Hideaway roster aren't the only ones making headlines these days. Seattle Bound, a 13-year-old son of Seattle Slew, has sired 2001 stakes winners Lil Sister Stich and Hollister Slew, as well as 2001 winners Ke Bound, Air'nsea, Nahulalula, and Flight Attendant.

"We have had a lot of luck here recently," said Howard. "When we started, to have this kind of a stallion roster would be a dream. I'd have been a hero if I had had these horses then. But it took a lot of hard work to break into this game."

His and hers farms

Gary and Marlene Howard are Utah natives who grew up around cattle and pleasure horses, respectively. They simply loved livestock farming and horses and, after a stint racing Quarter Horses, they got a chance to get into Thorough-breds when a property called Gray's Thoroughbreds came on the market.

The 20-acre facility already had about 17 horses, including a handful of stallions, and some boarding clients, which essentially put the Howards into the commercial breeding business as soon as they'd signed the purchase agreement.

"We just jumped in and kept going," Howard said. "It was difficult. We would work, get a little money ahead, and buy a little more land. Then we would work, get a little more ahead, and buy a little bit better stallion."

In 1993, the family bought a second facility, which has allowed them to offer training and lay-up services to their clientele. The 34-acre training center is located about 1 1/2 miles from the original breeding farm, giving the couple what Howard calls "his and hers farms." Marlene manages the breeding operation at Hideaway, and Gary spends his day overseeing the training facility, where much of the emphasis is on breaking young horses.

"By the time they leave here, they are ready to work about three-eighths," Howard said.

Between the two operations, Hideaway can take its clients into every facet of the Thoroughbred business, from broodmares, stallions, and foals, to sales preparation, to racing.

"From conception to the three-eighths pole," Howard quipped.

Not surprisingly, Hideaway - which manages some 500 horses, including visiting mares during breeding season, in the course of the year - has taken over Gary and Marlene's lives, as well as those of sons Brendon (17) and Britt (15) and daughter Tiffani (14), who pitch in.

"We started off as two people who really wanted to do this," Howard said. "We plowed every dime back into the farm and built it up. We put up the fences and built stalls. We wanted so bad for it to work. We just refused to quit. The greatest part is that our first customers are still here, and they've become close friends who have stayed, watched our kids grow up, and have grown with the farm."

Those original clients who are still involved include Roger and Janet Downes, Mimi Wells, Tom Dante, Dave and Trish Currie, and Bruce Dunmore, the last of whom is now also a part-owner of Madraar along with Hideaway and Ed Vadnais.

Madraar, a boon and a pleasure

Madraar already has brought some good luck and fun to his new owners.

"I was shocked that we got him," Howard said of the private deal that was brokered through agent Michael Goodbody. "The price they put on him, we thought, was an excellent price, and we felt we could stand him here and he could be successful. At the time, Fantastic Light had run well, but then he really took off and beat Galileo."

Given Madraar's pedigree - he is by Mr. Prospector out of the Nijinsky II mare Jood - Howard feels it was helpful that the horse ran only in Dubai and therefore might have been missed by other agents and farms looking for well-bred stallion prospects.

"Certainly, if he'd been running well up here the whole time, we wouldn't own him," Howard said.

But the Howards and their partners are giving Madraar a chance to run well here now that they do own him. In fact, his racing career has temporarily forestalled a decision to retire him and set a fee.

"The phone is already ringing off the hook," Howard said. "He's a big, magnificent horse who stands 17 hands tall, and he's royally bred. We got him over here in August, and we had some time, so we thought we would see if he would stand training. He did, so we thought we would see where we could go with him."

So far, Madraar has disappointed his new owners and trainer Doug O'Neill at the track with sixth-place finishes in the Steinlen and Grade 3 Native Diver handicaps. He's currently in northern California with trainer Armando Lage, pointing to Tuesday's Lafayette Handicap over a mile on the Golden Gate Fields turf course.

"We'll probably stand him after that race," Howard said. "But if he wins by 25 lengths, I'm going to call an audible."

If and when Madraar retires, he will join Dumaani, the other Maktoum stallion at Hideaway. A Grade 3 winner, Dumaani is the sire of 2001 stakes winner Wudantunoit and stakes-placed runner For Elise from two crops to race.

By Danzig out of the Lord Gayle mare Desirable, Dumaani won races in England, Japan, and the United States on his way to millionaire status. Howard thinks Californians will appreciate that versatility as well as the genetic connection to Danzig.

"He's by Danzig and he's earned more than $1 million, and that's tough to find in California," he said. "And he has a lot of 2-year-old runners in his family. His sister, Shadayid, was a champion 2-year-old filly in England and France. He ran here and in England, on dirt and on turf, and we liked that versatility. And he had speed."

Howard said he expects to book between 50 and 60 mares to both Madraar and Dumaani in 2002.

"I hope we have a great year," he said. "But I wouldn't expect Hideaway to change a lot. I don't want to get much bigger, but we'll always be looking to improve our quality.

"I wouldn't trade any of this for fame and fortune," he added. "We get to share all these people's dreams and hopes, and you get to help create dreams when someone has a nice horse come along. In a business that's the sport of kings, a little guy can make it, but you sure have to work hard to do it."