01/09/2004 12:00AM

Hotel owner moonlights as horse trainer


Greg James is not your typical businessman. He works long hours like most, but his "power lunches" come at a different location than most corporate types - at the racetrack.

James, who owns and manages seven hotels in the Louisville metropolitan area, goes to the office in the morning, heads to Churchill Downs Trackside for late training hours, and returns to the office for more hotel management work later in the afternoon. And, of course, every so often he heads to Turfway Park at night to race one of the 20 horses he owns and trains.

A horse owner since 1995, James shares a passion for business and horse racing, which up until recently had been strictly his hobby.

After years watching the game as an owner, James found he wanted to manage his horses with the same hands-on approach that he does with his hotels. He passed the test for a trainer's license in November, and last month acquired stalls at Trackside and began training. His results through Thursday: two wins in two starts at Turfway.

Although he never helped his former trainers - Dale Romans, Bernie Flint, and Jason Cook, among others - he said the experiences he gathered by owning horses gave him the foundation he needed to train.

"I have no fear of my lack of experience at being an assistant," he said. "I plan to succeed at whatever I do, and I have surrounded myself with good people."

James has a staff of eight at Trackside, including assistant Mark Caldwell, who was the groom of the first horse James owned.

James has no desire to train for outside clients. His focus is on the horses he owns, which grew in number in 2002 and 2003 due to the proceeds from the private sale of Drippingindiamonds.

A $9,000 yearling purchase by James, she won the first three starts of her career before James sold majority interest in her to the 3+ U Stable in the summer of 2002. James said he sold 90 percent of her for $400,000 and retained 10 percent interest.

Turned over to trainer Bobby Frankel, she raced twice later in 2002, finishing seventh as the favorite in the Grade 1 Prioress and sixth in the San Clemente Handicap.

Unraced at age 4, she was entered as a broodmare prospect in last year's November sale at Keeneland, where James bought her back in full for $52,000. He plans to return her to the racetrack and hopes to have her running this spring, with a turf race at Keeneland being his goal.

Father to son: Sorry, but no

Trainer Blackie Huffman, who has spent many winters at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, is having to explain himself to the Fair Grounds racing secretary for forgoing that meet and planning to race instead at Oaklawn Park.

It is not your typical racing secretary to trainer chat, more of a father-son conversation. Huffman's son, Ben, is racing secretary at Fair Grounds.

"He's calling me a traitor," Blackie Huffman said jokingly.

Huffman's decision to race at Oaklawn this spring has to do with health and timing, he said. He had surgery in the fall and felt uncomfortable with the prospect of his horses being in New Orleans, while he was recovering in his home in Louisville. Huffman is healthier, and the timing of the Oaklawn meet, which begins Jan. 23, suits him well.

Huffman already has 10 horses at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark.

Other Kentucky trainers have also begun sending horses south for the Oaklawn meet. Mike Tomlinson and Larry Jones shipped horses to Oaklawn earlier this week.

Cindy's Hobby sets track record

Cindy's Hobby, a $5,000 claimer, set a track record Wednesday at Turfway, racing five furlongs in 56.93 seconds. The previous record had been 56.98, set Feb. 23, 2002, by Salutee.

The five-furlong distance at Turfway is used primarily for 2-year-old races in September and December, and throughout the year for low-end claiming and starter allowance races.

Cindy's Hobby, a 2-year-old mare trained by Maria Pinzon, won by 6 1/2 lengths.

Feature a good-betting affair

A wide-open $45,000 claiming race and an entry-level allowance highlight Sunday's 10-race card.

Five of the nine entrants in the claiming race are coming off victories. Unpeteable, a winner of 5 of his last 8 races, appears likely to vie for favoritism with Battledar, and Ide be Spencers.