11/22/2011 12:50PM

Hollywood Park: Kretz stable burgeoning into a force

Benoit & Associates
John Johny Jak, here winning the Lure, is one of two runners in graded stakes this week for Rustin and Juliana Kretz.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Rustin Kretz was surveying the atmosphere at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day in 2010 when he turned to his wife, Juliana, and told her of his plans when they returned home to California.

“I have to own a racehorse,” he said.

The idea was not a passing fancy. In the following weeks, Kretz’s thoughts continually returned to Thoroughbred racing.

“I couldn’t get the idea out of my head,” he said last weekend. “We thought the whole thing was amazing.”

Kretz got his racehorse – and much more. He and his wife now have 20 of them with trainer Kristin Mulhall at Hollywood Park. Two of those horses run in graded stakes at Hollywood Park this weekend – Starship Flare in Friday’s $100,000 Miesque Stakes and John Johny Jak in Saturday’s $250,000 Citation Handicap.

What started as a desire to become more involved in the sport has become the focus of the Kretzes’s sporting lives.

“I’m really excited about this weekend,” said Kretz, 33.

The Kretzes found Mulhall through an Internet search of Southern California trainers, and after meeting with her to discuss their interests, acquired their first horse in June 2010, Westwood Pride. The filly gave the Kretzes their first win a month later.

In the last 18 months, they have added race-ready horses, broodmares, and yearlings to the stable.

Rustin Kretz is the founder and chief executive officer of Scorpion Design, an Internet design firm based in Valencia, Calif. Throughbred racing has found its way into his office. Many of the 61 employees at Scorpion follow the Kretzes’s runners simply by looking up from their desks.

“We installed TVs all over the office,” he said. “Every time one of the horses runs, everyone stops and watches. It’s pretty exciting.”

John Johny Jak has been the couple’s star this year, winning two restricted stakes – the Brubaker at Del Mar in August and the Lure Stakes at Santa Anita on Nov. 6. In between, he was third behind Jeranimo and Mr. Commons in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita in October.

The Citation will be John Johny Jak’s fifth start for Kretz Racing, following a private purchase in July.

“He seems to be improving and improving,” Rustin Kretz said. “We thought he’d be all right going up against Mr. Commons and Jeranimo. He fought and he tried really hard.”

In their brief involvement in racing, the Kretzes have primarily bought race-ready horses, although they do own some weanlings and yearlings kept on California farms. Starship Flare and John Johny Jak were discovered racing at Calder, as was Westwood Pride, who finished fourth in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes here last fall.

Starship Flare has won 2 of 4 starts, with the wins coming in a $32,000 claiming race for maidens in August and a starter allowance. She was sixth after a tough trip in a starter allowance on turf on Oct. 24, her final start for trainer Joseph Catanese. She caught Mulhall’s attention with the performance, and was sold to the Kretzes.

“This is a pretty nice filly,” Mulhall said. “I’ve never seen a horse have such a bad trip.”

The Kretzes own nearly half of Mulhall’s 43-horse stable, with more to come.

“They’ve bought a lot of horses and they want to get more,” Kristin said. “They’re being aggressive.”

Earlier this month, the couple paid $37,000 for Palau, Westwood Pride’s dam, who is in foal to Pleasantly Perfect. The broodmare acquisition is part of their plan to build the stable from within.

“I want to get Kristin more and more quality horses,” Kretz said.

It was this time last year that Westwood Pride gave the Kretzes their first stakes experience. She has won twice for them and was second in the Grade 2 Las Palmas Handicap at Hollywood Park and fourth in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes on Thanksgiving weekend in 2010.

Westwood Pride is being prepared for a return to racing after a layoff.

“I can’t wait to see her,” Kretz said. “She inspired me to get more. I thought, ‘I’m going to get attached.’”

He was right. He has become attached.